By Kate Kelly


SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) Walk past the senior annex of the San Francisco Stonestown YMCA and chances are good you’ll hear drumming. But it’s no garage band – it’s this week’s Jefferson Award winner, working with her fellow musicians on a centuries-old art form.

They may not look like a typical taiko group, and sensei Carol Ayers is the first to suggest she herself doesn’t look the part.

“Let’s face it,” she said with a glint of humor. “I’m white. I’m old. I’m a little overweight. I have a limp. But it just resonates in my heart. It just does.”

And she couldn’t be more perfect as the leader of “Kotobuki Taiko,” three classes of drummers ages 60s to 90s. The name means “longevity.”

“I love to drum,” Ayers added. “And I also have a real community feeling and I want to pass it on to the community.”

So when injuries kept her from performing at her best, she turned to teaching, and eventually started a small class at the Stonestown YMCA Senior Annex.

Norman Wong was one of the first students.

“It was fun,” he remembered. “It was very innovative. You have to memorize the songs, memorize the choreography, know when to play soft, know when to play a little harder.”

When Ayers started teaching her taiko class six years ago, there wasn’t a lot of money for expensive instruments, so they created the “gomi can” from tape, a garbage can, and a slant stand made from a folding chair.

Students reap the benefits of physical exercise, mental challenges, and socializing. Ayers does not see age or infirmity as a barrier for anyone determined to drum.

“If you can’t stand, you can sit. If you can’t hold the bacchis, we have plastic ones,” she explained. “It went from the way I learned, which was rigid, to just saying hey, let’s make it work.”

“She has great patience,” said taiko student Wanda Jung. “She has a way of being able to work with people. She can see how everyone’s learning needs are different.”

Jung added that Ayers has created more than a cohesive class, she’s built a nurturing network.

“We take care of each other. It’s not just showing up. It’s really extending ourselves. It’s really like an extended family.”

“I love taiko,” Ayers said. “I just love everything about it. But you don’t do it alone. You don’t do it by yourself. You do it in a group. So as you get to know the group and we become friends, then it’s something you look forward to.”

So for volunteering her time and talent to teach taiko to a new community of musicians, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Carol Ayers.

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