A Mindful Collaboration: Taiko Drumming and Drawing

Monday, October 2, 2023
Post-sabbatical, Phoenix College Art Faculty Jay Hardin developed a community workshop with Taiko drummer and mindfulness teacher Holly Cluff
Mindfulness teacher and Taiko drummer Holly Cluff instructing Phoenix College painting students in TaikoMIND
Phoenix College painting students playing Taiko drums during an interdisciplinary workshop exploring mindfulness in drumming and painting
Phoenix College painting student bringing mindfulness and play to the canvas: painting with two brushes and adapting to what other painters contributed to each canvas
Drawing studies by Phoenix College Art Faculty Jay Hardin incorporating meditation and mindfulness into his studio art practice

En Español. How often are we really able to slow down these days? How often do we give ourselves permission to take a few deep breaths and just sit and observe what is happening around us? These are some of the questions Art faculty Jay Hardin asked when he began his sabbatical in Fall 2021. What he discovered after a six-week online mindfulness class with Holly Cluff, a Koru-certified instructor from Tucson, is that mindfulness does wonders for the creative mind.

“Before I developed a regular practice of meditation, the pressure of my daily schedule would often make me feel rushed or anxious in my studio,” Jay explained. “It would take a long time for me to get comfortable, to focus and immerse myself in the work. I expected immediate results and became frustrated if things didn't go to plan. I had a feeling that meditation would help me. That's what led to my sabbatical work.” Now, Jay arrives at his studio and meditates before doing anything else. “I slow down. As a result, I’m more focused and more playful. I don’t overthink or second guess my creative instincts.”

In the aftermath of Covid and remote learning, Jay was eager to see how he could incorporate mindfulness into his PC drawing and painting classes. "K-12 schools are implementing mindful meditation moments in the classroom, and it's benefiting students, teachers, and classrooms," Jay said. Created at Duke University, the Koru method focuses on young adults "but is highly adaptable to adults of all ages," said Holly, Jay’s mindfulness instructor. Now, with over ten years of trial and refinement, the Mindfulness Institute for Emerging Adults (MIEA) offers an evidence-based curriculum for students, teachers, and higher learning institutions. 

When the mindfulness class ended, Holly–a K-12 educator for 30 years– engaged Jay in a conversation about bringing mindfulness to his classroom. That's when Jay learned Holly was a teaching artist who developed TaikoMIND, a program that highlights mindful learning while participants play the taiko drum. Jay, who has always been interested in the intersection of sound, movement, and visual art, invited Holly to collaborate on a curriculum to bring TaikoMIND to his painting class after his sabbatical.  

Together, they offered Jay’s Fall 2022 painting class an interdisciplinary mindfulness experience, exploring the relationship between drumming and painting. The curriculum incorporated Holly's TaikoMIND program and Jay's mindful art studio experience. Jay's class was a diverse group of all ages and backgrounds. Some students practiced meditation, and some didn't, but everyone came to taiko as a beginner. "TaikoMIND works because most people have never played a taiko drum," said Holly. "And what that does is open up ability. You can work on building this sense that it's okay to make mistakes because we're all trying to build something new. In a very short time, participants go from never having seen a taiko drum to playing an eight-beat pattern with someone else, which feels intoxicating. Their faces light up." 

The initial plan for the workshop was to have the painting easels and taiko drums set up side by side in PC's outdoor art plaza, but rain and wind prompted a change in course. Jay and Holly moved the drums into the Band room, where students drummed for an hour and a half, experimenting with breath and rhythm patterns of sound, moving to different drums during the exercise. "How does it feel in the body?" was a question Holly posed to students with many check-ins with one's breath. There was also call-and-response chanting.

Students carried that engagement with breath and body into the painting studio. Jay used the same terminology of taiko–dynamics, rhythm, pressure, speed, tempo–to guide students in making visual art, asking students to pick up brushes in each hand so they were painting with both hands like a drummer holding two drum sticks. "They painted for about five minutes, and then I asked them to move," Jay said. Holly observed when students first left their painting and moved to a new canvas, there was an audible, "Oh no." But Jay and Holly encouraged students to adapt and respond to what other students had done on the canvas. "That's when I started to see a real playfulness come in," Jay recalled. "Students were engaged, talking and laughing, and weren't as tentative or concerned with how the piece would turn out, but more present with bringing some resolution and unity to the piece in front of them." 

Jay knows something about the transformation mindfulness brings to one's art practice. His studio practice transformed after two mindfulness classes with Holly and regular meditation in his studio: “I set an intention during each session. After my meditation, I make nine ‘warm-up’ drawings with a single graphite stick and sketch paper. Each drawing takes only a few seconds to make with one or two strokes. So much is revealed to me in these ‘warm-ups.’  What used to be four hours in the studio turned into one or two hour sessions, Jay noted. “It's amazing how much work is accomplished when I slow things down.”

The last goal of Jay's sabbatical was to develop a community education class at PC. "That's the piece I'm most excited about right now." Mindful Arts: Taiko Drumming and Drawing is being offered on Friday, November 3, 2023, from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. in PC's Band Room, M104. Designed for those seeking a harmonious blend of mindfulness and artistic expression, the class guides participants in the fundamentals of Taiko drumming with a seamless transition to drawing. Mindfulness principles focus on each step in the creative process and explore the intricate relationship between sound and image. The $45 non-credit workshop is open to students, faculty, staff, and community members. No experience in drumming or drawing is required. Use this Find a Class link to sign up.    

Learn more about the many programs available within Visual & Performing Arts at Phoenix College.