Sunset Seniors Put On Powerful Taiko Drumming Performance
By Jan Robbins
At the Cole Valley Fair, 11 members of the Kotobuki Taiko group demonstrated
that seniors can drum energetically and with passion. They can also get healthier
The Kotobuki (longevity) Taiko group was formed nine years ago at The Stonestown
Family YMCA Annex, under the leadership of volunteer teacher Carol Ayers, 73, a long-
time Taiko drummer.
“I had some surgeries, and couldn’t play up to my best level, but I wanted to continue
with Taiko so I went to the Y and offered to start a class,” Ayers said.
Today, Ayers oversees three levels of classes, with 45 students ranging in age
from 60 to 85; 40 women and five men. She and another teacher, Fumi Spencer,
age 89, teach the seniors and watch them thrive.
“Having an infirmity is no barrier to playing – people can sit and play,” Ayers
The performance on Sept. 24 was a chance for the Kotobuki group to share its
art form. Andrea Lai Pujolar, 73, loves to bang on the drum.
“I enjoy performing because I can beat as hard as I can. I love the energy that it
produces in me!” she said.
“Because the response to rhythm is basic to human functioning,” says neurologist
Barry Bittman, “it’s no wonder that drummers and observers alike are uplifted.
Drumming has been a sacred act since ancient times.”
It was believed that, by imitating the sounds of thunder, the spirits of rain would be
forced into action. Drumming was used to thank the gods for bountiful crops, and
shamans used drumming as a means of reaching a trance-like state.
Today, Taiko drummers perform in festivals and concerts throughout the world.
Taiko is a Japanese word meaning a drumming style, a drum group, drum music
and the drum itself. The drums range in size from a snare drum (shime) to the
most common size, that of a wine barrel. They are made from strips of wood and
covered in cow or horse hide.
According to Christiane Northrup, M.D., drumming releases endorphins and
alpha waves, which are associated with feelings of well-being. Northrup says drumming
synchronizes the brain’s left and right hemispheres, strengthening feelings of insight
Besides brain health, Taiko drumming is exercise, according to Pujolar. “It’s a great
physical activity. It keeps me young to keep my body moving,” she said.
Pujolar, who opened the show blowing into a conch shell, said her breath was
strengthened from many years of martial arts (she achieved 4th degree Black Belt
Taiko drumming also elicits feelings of camaraderie and community in the
“Drumming can be a tremendous social experience,” Bittman said.
Pujolar has been studying between six to seven years at the Stonestown Family
YMCA Annex. Joining the group is difficult because of the love for drumming the
“All of our levels are full. We have 18 people on the wait list, which is now
closed,” Ayers said.
In 2014, Ayers’ students nominated her for a Jefferson Award, which is sponsored by the
local KPIX television station. The Jefferson Award is given to people in the
Bay Area community who make a special contribution.
Ayers’ students say they have always viewed her as a “sensei,” which in Japanese is a
teacher who is completely dedicated to her students and the art form. Despite arthritis,
Ayers continues to play, teach and oversee classes at the Stonestown YMCA, which offers
numerous programs for seniors, most of them for free.
“My journey with Taiko has been a blessing. When you have passion for something, the
rewards are great. I want to carry on the tradition of mentoring students and watching
them mentor others,” Ayers said.