News | May 9, 2019

Community shares cultural lessons at special event

By Tim Hoyle DLA Disposition Services

The Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center echoed with the booming sounds of taiko drums and shouts in Japanese as members of the workforce embraced a 2,000 year-old culture during an Asian Pacific Heritage Month program event.

Members of the Michigan Hiryu Daiko (Flying Dragon) Taiko Drummers from Kalamazoo performed selections demonstrating the musical art form, which features choreographed movements that mirror Japanese martial arts. Between the musical selections, Esther Vandecar, the group’s director, and Carolyn Koebel, explained aspects of the ancient Japanese form of percussion that uses drums of various sizes. 

Vandecar and Koebel both serve as instructors at Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University, and have studied the art for many years. Vandecar explained some of the history behind the selections played. She described how one musical selection honored villagers who defended their fishing areas and crops from samurai warriors determined to take them for themselves. Koebel would also contribute by explaining the difference between the drums and translate some of the movements and Japanese phrases.

“The gestures you see in this piece are often to the heavens…calling for goodwill and positivity,” Koebel said.

Battle Creek Mayor Mark Behnke attended and presented a proclamation from the city government honoring Asian-Pacific Americans as “a dynamic group who, through determination, creativity, intelligence and dedication…have added strong threads to the fabric of America’s multi-cultural society… They have made their mark on American history.”  

Other Asian-Pacific Americans were honored as DLA Disposition Services Director Mike Cannon discussed people he has served with during his service in the Air Force and later as a senior civilian leader in the Defense Logistics Agency. Cannon said his travels have him taken across the Pacific Rim, and his sites across the region give him the “distinct privilege of having employees from those countries.” He also noted how Asian-Pacific Americans serving in the Pacific region have literally moved mountains.

“You probably can’t find Kwajalein Atoll on a globe because it is so small, but we removed 6 million pounds of scrap metal and turned it back into a nice, natural setting,” Cannon said.

Cannon said the Kwajalein work was overseen primarily by people stationed in Hawaii and Asian-Pacific Americans. He also noted how the work of local nationals in countries like Japan helps defend their country while they support DLA efforts to serve American forces.

After the event, many attendees stayed to ask questions and learn more about taiko.