Taiko drum group prepares to remember friend, victim of Kalamazoo bike tragedy

Taiko drum group prepares to remember friend, victim of Kalamazoo bike tragedy

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - As West Michigan continues to heal following Kalamazoo's biking tragedy, a local drum group is honoring one of the bicyclists who died and was a part of their team as well.

Melissa Hughes, of Augusta, was part of a Japanese-style drumming group from Kalamazoo, and Monday night, Newschannel 3 spoke to members of the group she was once a part of as they rehearsed to play at her funeral on Tuesday.

With drum sticks clutched in their hands, in a beat by beat manner, this group of seven pounds taiko drums in communal precision.

The thunderous sound fills this indoor baseball gym hidden in an upstairs building on Kalamazoo's north side.

Esther Vandercar, who leads this drumming group, says striking these barrel drums is all that can drown out all the pain from the death of their teammate Melissa Hughes.

"She had such a wonderful spirit. And she reminded me of myself, right down to the red hair. I have red hair underneath this, long ago," Esther said.

Hughes was one of five bicyclists struck and killed by a truck driver while out on a casual bike ride nearly a week ago.

"She was doing another thing that she loved. She loved being a bicyclist, and being outdoors was very important to her," said Esther.

This Kalamazoo taiko family say they played with Hughes every week for at least five hours rehearsing for performances around West Michigan, and say her death has devastated their taiko family.

"She was a very good player and she only had a couple of years under her belt. And that's not long in this kind of art form," Esther said.

Melissa's teammates tell Newschannel 3 the devoted mother drummed with the group for nearly three years, and say it is her beaming smile and steadfast joy they will miss the most.

"She had the red-headed vitality," said taiko team member Jill Terwilliger.

"She was a very positive person and it was fun to play with her," said team member Anita Blueford.

Now, this close knit family will have the unthinkable duty of playing at Hughes funeral, and say the beat must go on.

The group says they will drum to Hughes favorite song, entitled "Inori" at her funeral Tuesday.

They say they know it's what she would have wanted.

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