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SOTA Celebrates 10 Years of World Music Education With Taiko, Gamelan and More

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A group of students play Japanese taiko drums on a stage
Students in the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts World Music Program perform Taiko drumming at a performance at the school’s Dan Kryston Memorial Theater in San Francisco in 2022. (Jason Mironov)

It’s been a decade since the World Music Program was founded at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts and students are poised to celebrate in a big way with “Takeover X”: three nights of performances at the school’s Don Kryston Memorial Theater, April 13–15.

The production will be a far cry from the program’s humble beginnings when founder and director Monina Sen Cervone started with a single taiko drumming class.

“The first drum was an old tire that I taped with duct tape. We had no classroom. So I was out on the tennis courts. I was out in the quad,” Cervone recalls.

Cervone was tired of music education centering European classical music and wanted to offer classes that represent the diversity of cultures in San Francisco. Her efforts evolved into the school’s World Music Program in 2012 – the only public school department of its kind in the country.

The program is differentiated not only by the type of music and instruments it teaches, but by how they are taught. “Everything that we learn is taught aurally [by] ear,” Cervone says. “And there’s a lot of, I think, assumptions made about music that’s learned in that way. It doesn’t have as much credit as classical music, and I hope that’s being changed.”

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The Takeover X anniversary show will feature musical performances on Japanese taiko and Afro-Brazilian and West African drums. They’ll also highlight the Balinese gamelan, the Filipino kulintang and tinikling folk dance, and original pieces composed and choreographed by students.

“This is our 10-year anniversary, so it’s a little bit different than our normal shows. We have alumni coming back and we have some really special pieces,” says Skyler Lee, a junior. Lee performs with the all-female identifying Afro-Brazilian drum group Bateria con Fuerza.

Another student, senior Elliot Berry, has been going to sleep at night thinking about the songs he and his classmates will perform. “I love it so much, and it’s always on my mind,” Berry says. And he assures you won’t be able to resist the spirit of the music, either, if you check out one of their shows.

“Audience participation is such a huge, important factor of our shows,” Berry says. “So if you’re in the audience, you’re gonna be having fun, you’re gonna be screaming, you’re gonna be cheering. Like, we’ll hype you up and you’ll hype us up.”

The Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts World Music Program presents ‘Takeover X’ April 13–15 at the Dan Kryston Memorial Theater on campus. Tickets and more info here.

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