Roy Hirabayashi

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Roy Mitsuru Hirabayashi
Born 1951
Occupation Musician, Composer, Nonprofit organizational consultant
Spouse(s) PJ Hirabayashi

Roy Hirabayashi is a leader in North American taiko. He is co-founder of one of the seminal taiko groups in North America, San Jose Taiko, the group's former Artistic and Executive Director, and active in developing San Jose’s Japantown and arts community. In 2011, he was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in Folk and Traditional Arts, the highest arts award in this category given in the United States.

Early life[edit]

Roy Hirabayashi was born in Berkeley, California in 1951.[1] His parents were also born in the United States (kibei); however, they were sent to Japan as young children where they adopted Japanese culture and traditions.

Roy grew up in east Oakland, California and was active in the Oakland Buddhist Temple where he and his family worshiped. Roy’s first introduction to the taiko drum was at the temple’s summer Obon Festival.[1]

Hirabayashi attended San Jose State beginning in 1969.[1] At the time, San Jose State was a mecca for anti-war protests. So much, in fact, that the school was in constant threat of being shut down due to strikes by teachers and students alike.[2] This inspired Roy to learn more about his roots as a Japanese-American. Hirabayashi became interested in the social sciences and worked in the Asian American studies program at San Jose State.

San Jose Taiko[edit]

In 1973, Reverend Abiko recruited Dean Miyakusu and Hirabayashi to begin a taiko program through their Buddhist temple.[1] They were inspired by Kinnara Taiko in Los Angeles [3] They decided they wanted to involve the kids in the community in taiko and enlisted Roy Hirabayashi’s support.[1] Roy also invited his peers and under his leadership the program took off.

In July and August 1973, after Roy began a fundraiser for the group,[4] Roy and Dean Miyakusu went to L.A. to meet Reverend Kodani of Kinnara Taiko and learn more about running a taiko group. Reverend Kodani set them up with some drums and taught them how to make their own drums. The drum building techniques Roy learned from Kinnara, and then honed with his own taiko group, provided San Jose Taiko a financially plausible way to build their drum ensemble and grow as a group.[5]

In October, just two months after visiting L.A. and Reverend Kodani, San Jose Taiko finished building their own drum set and creating their own songs and they had their first performance.[4] The following summer, during the San Jose Buddhist Church Obon festival, Roy Hirabayashi met Seiichi Tanaka, the founder of San Francisco Taiko Dojo, the first North American Taiko group. Tanaka offered the San Jose Taiko members an opportunity to engage in his own group’s workshops. For a period of time, San Jose Taiko group members drove up to San Francisco to study with Seiichi Tanaka. After about a year, however, the group decided to continue and strengthen their own unique identity and concluded their study with San Francisco Taiko.[6]

Roy is particularly known for using taiko to establish Japanese Americans as strong individuals. Inspired by the nationwide civil rights movement, Roy saw the powerful sound of the drum as a means to combat the stereotype of Japanese Americans as quiet and meek. Additionally, the prevalence of woman taiko players in San Jose Taiko modeled equality along gender lines for female spectators.[7]

In 1977, Ondekoza visited L.A. on their tour of the U.S. and Roy and San Jose Taiko members went to see their performance. In the following year, Ondekoza came to San Jose for a performance and extended stay. It was during this time that San Jose Taiko had an opportunity to learn more about the life style of Ondekoza and established many life long friendships with the individual members. [8]


Unfortunately, Ondekoza had an organizational division. Mr. Tagayasu Den created a new Ondekoza in the Nagasaki area and the former members of company formed Kodo. When Kodo, was about to launch their first North American tour in the fall of 1982, they ask Roy to join the tour as the tour and stage manager. He began working with Kodo in August 1982 and then returned to Japan with the group after the U.S. tour was complete. There he had the opportunity to experience the rigorous training of the group and their polished professional presentation.[9] Impressed by Kodo's dedication and success, Hirabayashi returned to San Jose with a broader vision for San Jose Taiko.

Arts Development[edit]

San Jose Taiko first started under the name San Jose Taiko Group. Roy established San Jose Taiko as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit before he left with Kodo to Japan. Two years later, in 1983, the group received its first City of San Jose Fine Arts Commission Grant.[8] With the grant money, San Jose Taiko moved into their first rehearsal space and went on their first tour. The following year San Jose Taiko began their first junior taiko class. In 1985, San Jose Taiko (SJT) hired a part time general manager, the first staff member for SJT. In 1989, San Jose Taiko impressed a management company, California Artists Management, and SJT soon signed on with the booking management company.

California Artists Management worked on establishing SJT internationally and finding concert opportunities for the group. Roy took a back seat and learned how to mold his group's identity and gain exposure from a professional. SJT engaged the Arts Council of Santa Clara County and worked with their Music and Arts Campaign to develop SJT’s first individual donor base. Roy shifted over to become the managing director of SJT, focusing on fundraising and fiscal development and eventually became the Executive Director of the organization.

Hirabayashi has dedicated years to developing SJT and is now working on the sustainability of the group. He trained staff members (the group now has five full and part time staff members) and extending the current model of SJT to ensure its long term success. In July 2011, Roy and PJ (Artistic Director) stepped down from the positions to turn over the organization to Wisa Uemura as the Executive Director and Franco Imperial as the Artistic Director.

Roy is also active in fostering and developing other artistic leaders. He helped found 1st ACT's Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute which strives to train artistic leaders in the Silicon Valley area on how to engage their community and strengthen their business management skills. The programs provides participants opportunities to network, develop fundraising strategies, and hone their problem solving skills.[10]


San Jose Taiko Staff Positions[edit]

  • 39 years performing member with San Jose Taiko
  • 1973 Co-founder of San Jose Taiko (SJT)
  • 1973 to 2011 - SJT Practice/rehearsal Leader
  • 1985 to 2003 - Instructor for advance classes & Junior Taiko Performing Ensemble
  • 1988-89 - SJT Artistic Team member
  • Jan. 1990 - July 1991 - SJT Artistic Coordinator
  • July 1991 - Jan. 1995 - SJT Artistic Director
  • Jan. 1995 to Jan 2007 - SJT Managing Director
  • Feb 2007 to June 2011 - SJT Executive Director
  • July 1, 2011 - Emeritus, San Jose Taiko Founder
  • 2012 to present - SJT Tour Lighting Technical Director

Other Areas of Employment[edit]

  • Student Administrative Director, Asian American Studies & Asian American EOP, San Jose State University (1970-74)
  • Youth Coordinator (RAB), Buddhist Churches of America (1971-72)
  • Japanese American Citizens League, National office, Textbook evaluation project (1975)
  • Administrative Director, Pacific/Asian Coalition - National Pacific/Asian American Mental Health Organization, San Francisco (1976-78)
  • Business manager/Partner, Yamaguma & Associates, Graphic Design (1978-79)
  • Graphic Design/pre-press production manager, Jim’s Printing (1980-1983)
  • Graphic Artist/Typesetter/Desktop publishing/Production Manager, Communicart (1984-95)

Training, Performances, Workshop Presentations, Lectures[edit]

  • Aug. 1982-Feb. 1983 - Toured & studied with KODO, U.S. & Japan tour (residency and studies on Sado Island, Japan)
  • Sept./Oct. 1987 - Studied and performed with Ondekoza, Japan tour (Demon Drummers of Nagasaki, Japan)
  • Fall 1989 - Assisted with the use of the taiko in the ACT/George Coates Performance Works production of Right Mind, San Francisco, CA
  • Oct./Nov. 1990 - Performed in the play "Oedipus the King" under San Jose Repertory Theater, directed by Timothy Near, San Jose, CA
  • June 1991 - Directed collaboration project with SJT and Kenny Endo, Russel Baba, Jeanne Mercer & Margaret Wingrove Dance Co., San Jose, CA, funded by the MAP Fund
  • February 1992 - Produced the collaboration project with SJT, Brenda Aoki and Mark Izu, "Soul of the Great Bell", Montgomery Theater, San Jose, CA, funded by the MAP Fund
  • March 1993 - Co-directed collaboration project with SJT and Mythili Kumar and the Abhinaya Dance Company
  • September 1993 - Directed the 20th Anniversary program for San Jose Taiko, which included the guest artists Keith Terry, Crosspulse, Yoshikazu & Yoko Fujimoto of Kodo, and Yasuko Takakubo of Ondekoza.
  • December 1993 - Performed at Carnegie Hall, New York with SJT and Ondekoza
  • April 1994 - Collaboration with San Jose Dance Theater, Zakir Hussain, SJT
  • April 1994 - The Arsenio Hall Show, Burbank, CA
  • September 1994 - Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, Las Vegas, NV
  • January 1996 - Coordinated Northern California tour for Warabi-za
  • July 1996 - Musical accompaniment to performance artist Dan Kwong, Contemporary Asian Theater Scene, San Jose Stage
  • September 1996 - Collaboration with Anthony Brown, Mark Izu, Qi-Chao Liu, Marco Lienhard in "Traditions in Transformation," Villa Montalvo, Saratoga, CA, funded by the MAP Fund
  • 1997 North American Taiko Conference, workshop presenter, panelist, speaker, Japanese American Cultural Community Center, Los Angeles, CA
  • August 1997 - Extasia, Asano Taiko Festival, Matto City, Japan
  • 1997/98 - Collaboration with Motofumi Yamaguchi of Kodo, Shohei Kikuchi of Warabiza & SJT, funded by Meet The Composer International Collaborations
  • 1998 - "Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire: Jazz & Justice" with Jon Jang, Mark Izu, Anthony Brown, Frances Wong, Qi-Chao Liu & others
  • 1998-2002 - Produced the SJT Summer Music Series
  • 1999 North American Taiko Conference, workshop presenter, panelist, speaker, Taiko Jam Concert, Japanese American Cultural Community Center, Los Angeles, CA
  • Spring 2000 - Sonos Ensemble collaboration with Jaron Lanier as the composer
  • 2001 North American Taiko Conference, workshop panelist, speaker, Community Forum curator, opening and closing session curator, Japanese American Cultural Community Center, Los Angeles, CA
  • Continental Harmony, PBS video special, November 2001
  • 2003 North American Taiko Conference, workshop presenter, panelist, speaker, Community Forum curator, opening and closing session curator, Cal State University Sacramento, Sacramento, CA
  • October 2003 - SJT 30th Anniversary with SF Taiko Dojo & Kinnara Taiko, Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose, CA; Zellerbach Auditorium, Berkeley, CA, Japan America Theater, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2005 North American Taiko Conference, workshop panelist, speaker, Community Forum curator, opening and closing session curator, Japanese American Cultural Community Center, Los Angeles, CA
  • June 2006 - Creative Connections grant from Meet the Composers, SPOT Program, Hancher Auditorium, University of Iowa
  • 2007 Taiko – Awakening of the Spirit Conference, Crestone, CO
  • 2007 North American Taiko Conference, workshop panelist, speaker, Community Forum curator, opening and closing session curator, Taiko Jam Concert, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
  • September 2008 Co-directed SJT’s 35th Anniversary concert program, San Jose, CA
  • 2009 North American Taiko Conference, workshop presenter, panelist, speaker, Community Forum curator, opening and closing session curator, Japanese American Cultural Community Center, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2011 North American Taiko Conference, workshop presenter, panelist, speaker, Community Forum curator, opening and closing session curator, local conference planning group, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
  • 2012 East Coast Taiko Conference, workshop presenter, Wesleyan University, Wesleyan, CT
  • Yoshi's Jazz Club, 40th Anniversary, Flip Side of Yoshi's. Performed with Yoshi Akiba and Judith Kajiwara, San Francisco, CA, October 2012
  • PJ and Roy were featured entertainment at the Independent Sector 2012 Awards Dinner in San Francisco, CA, November 2012
  • 2013 East Coast Taiko Conference, workshop presenter, Brown University, Providence, RI
  • Lecture: Taiko: The Role and Impact of its Reverberations. Japan Foundation, Toronto, Canada, February 2013
  • Kodo Arts Sphere America (KASA), workshop presenter, Los Angeles, CA, June 2013
  • Hancher Auditorium ground breaking dedication with San Jose Taiko and Rinde Eckert, University of Iowa, June 2013
  • Asano Taiko US grand opening, workshop presenter, Torrance, CA, July 2013
  • Taiko Baka, workshop presenter, Sacramento, CA, August 2013
  • Valley of the Heart play by Luis Valdez, El Teatro Campesino, music sound scape and themes, composer and performer, August 2013, San Juan Bautista, CA
  • San Jose Taiko 40th Anniversary Concert, Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose, CA, October 2013
  • Master Class, Skidmore College Music Department, Saratoga Springs, NY, February 2014
  • 2014 East Coast Taiko Conference, workshop presenter, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY
  • 2014 Japanese American Citizens League National Convention workshop panelist, “Breaking the Mold”, San Jose, CA
  • World Taiko Gathering, workshop presenter, July 2014, Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, CA
  • Art Activism Then and Now, panel discussion, Doishisha University, Kyoto, Japan, November 2014
  • 2015 East Coast Taiko Conference, workshop presenter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY


  • Free Spirit (1983)
  • Weaving Drums (1986)
  • Hachijo/Noto, co-written with PJ Hirabayashi (1987)
  • Miyoshi no Ki, co-written with PJ Hirabayashi (1987)
  • Bamboo Drums, co-written with PJ Hirabayashi) (1990)
  • Reflections (1991)
  • Insight Through Sound, co-written with San Jose Taiko, (1991)
  • Celebration, co-written with PJ Hirabayashi (1992)
  • Nana-Shi (1992)
  • Spirit of Adventure (1993)
  • Stompin (1996)
  • Kin Moku, co-written with Karen Morita (1997)
  • PJ's Song, jazz instrumental ballad piece for the Michael Sasaki Band (1999)
  • SJT encore arrangement (2000)
  • SJT Encore arrangement (2001)
  • Challenge, rearrangement Serrada Taiko by Jose Alarcon (2004)
  • “Unititled” (2005)


  • Moving Times (commissioned by Portland Taiko) 2004


  • San Jose Taiko Group, Bamboo Brew Productions, 1978;
  • Jon Jang, "Are You Chinese or Charlie Chan?" Wazo's March, 1984, RPM Records
  • San Jose Taiko 15th Anniversary Concert, October 1988, Sokai Audio
  • San Jose Taiko, Insight Through Sound, March 1991, Sokai Audio
  • San Jose Taiko, Kodama, Echoes of the Soul, September 1993, SJT
  • San Jose Taiko, Moichi-Do, One More Time, January 1996, SJT/Sokai Audio
  • Anthony Brown, Family, Asian Improv Records, 1996
  • San Jose Taiko, Video recording, March 1998
  • San Jose Taiko, “Rhythm Journey”, April 2005
  • San Jose Taiko, “Celebrating 3 Decades” DVD, April, 2007
  • San Jose Taiko, “35th Anniversary” DVD, September, 2009

Special Tasks Forces[edit]

  • City of San Jose, Mayors Task force on Multicultural Arts Development,“Vision 2000”, September 1991
  • Japantown/Corporation Yard Task Force, City of San Jose, 1999
  • Review panel for the Japantown Corporation Yard Developers selection, San Jose Redevelopment Agency, 2005
  • “Big Drum, Taiko in the US”, Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, 2004-05
  • San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs cultural exchange trip to Cambridge, UK, April 2007
  • Mexican Heritage Plaza Steering Committee member, 2009 to May 2011, City of San Jose
  • Arts Plan Advancement Team, San Jose’s Cultural Vision for 2040, 2009-10
  • Advisory Committee on Permanent Governance for the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, October 2011 to May 2013


  • East Bay Japanese for Action (EBJA), Berkeley (1970 to 1973)
  • Asians for Community Action, San Jose (1971 to 1974)
  • Japanese American Citizens League, San Jose Chapter
  • Asian Americans for Community Involvement, Santa Clara County (1973 to 1975)
  • Kodo America, Board of Directors (1988 to 1990)
  • North American Taiko Conference, Advisory Council (1995 to 2013)
  • Western Arts Alliance (WAA) Board of Directors (1998 to 2001)
  • Kodo Arts Sphere America (KASA) founding member & Board of Director (2001 to 2002)
  • First Voice, board member (multicultural arts coalition, San Jose) (2004 to 2008)
  • Artsopolis, Board of Governors (2004 to 2010)
  • Japantown Community Congress of San Jose, board member (2004 to present)
  • 1stACT Silicon Valley founding member, San Jose (2004 to 2013)
  • North American Taiko Conference Executive Committee Chairperson (2005 to 2013)
  • California Lawyers for the Arts/Arts Arbitration & Mediation Services mediator (2004 to present)
  • American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley (ALFSV), Class XVIII, Senior Fellow (2006 to present)
  • Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute (APALI) Senior Fellow (2007 to present)
  • Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute (MALI), founder/advisor (2007 to present)
  • Japantown Community Congress of San Jose Board President (2011 to 2013)
  • California Japanese American Community Leadership Council, board member (2011 to present)
  • School of Arts & Culture, Mexican Heritage Plaza, board member (2013 to present)
  • Taiko Community Alliance, founding & board member (2013 to present)

Awards & Appointments[edit]

  • Isadora Duncan Izzies Award, Sound/Score/Music/Text, Bay Area Dance, 1991
  • Nomination for the Isadora Duncan Izzies Award, Outstanding Achievement in Performance for a Company, Bay Area Dance, 1993
  • Chevron & Management Center, Award for Excellence, December 1993
  • 1994 Arts Council of Santa Clara County award for community leadership for efforts to foster cultural and ethnic diversity in the arts
  • Yu-Ai Kai Cultural Award, 1997
  • Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI) Arts Community Star Award, 2003
  • Project Cornerstone Award for Positive Cultural Identity. 2003
  • Preservation Action Council of San Jose, for the work in Japantown, San Jose, 2004
  • 2005 Community Activists Award, Silicon Valley Asian Pacific American Democratic Club
  • 4th Tokyo International Taiko Contest, Judge, Tokyo, Japan, October 2005
  • 5th Tokyo International Taiko Contest, Judge, Tokyo, Japan, August 2006
  • Nikkei Matsuri Community Recognition Award, San Jose, May 2007
  • San Jose Japanese American Citizens League Community Recognition Award, Oct 2007
  • Yu-Ai Kai Akira Kamiya Award, November 2009
  • Japan Consulate General Foreign Minister’s Commendation to San Jose Taiko, October 2010

  • National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in Folk and Traditional Arts, September 2011

  • San Jose Japanese American Citizens League Community Recognition award, 2011
  • San Jose Nihonmachi Outreach Committee Appreciation Award, February 2012
  • Japanese Consul General's Certificate of Commendation for community service, September 2012

  • Silicon Valley Creates (formerly Arts Council Silicon Valley) 2014 Legacy Laureate

  • National Japanese American Citizens League 2014 Japanese American of the Biennium award

  • American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley, John W. Gardner Leadership Award, April 2015

Seminars, Workshops, Training Programs[edit]

  • Leadership 2000, Arts Management Seminar, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild October 1994
  • Arts Resolution Services Mediation Training, California Lawyers for the Arts, February 1995
  • Facilitative Leadership Training, California Lawyers for the Arts & Interaction Institute for Social Change, November 1995
  • Arts Leadership for the Future, The Management Center / Packard Foundation, 2002
  • Arts Enterprise Forum, The Management Center / Packard Foundation, 2003
  • Arts Leadership for the Future #3, 2004/05
  • Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders – Arts, National Arts Strategies and the Center for Social Innovation and the Stanford Graduate Business School, June 2006
  • Arts Arbitration & Mediation Services Orientation & Refresher Training, March 2008 California Lawyers for the Arts
  • Center for Excellence in Nonprofits, Executive Director Roundtable Program, April 2008
  • Executive Program Nonprofit Leaders Next Step Conference, Center for Social Innovation, Stanford Graduate School of Business, April 2009
  • National Arts Marketing Project Boot Camp, San Francisco, July 2009
  • National Arts Marketing Project Conference, Providence, RI, Oct 2009
  • National Arts Marketing Project Conference, San Jose, CA, Nov 2010
  • James P. Shannon Leadership Institute, St. Paul, MN, 2011
  • San Jose Prepared Community Emergency Response Team, Dec 2012
  • GenArts Silicon Valley Mentorship Program, mentor, 2013

Grant Review Panels[edit]

  • Arts Council of Santa Clara County, Community Arts Fund Panel
  • California Arts Council, Arts Services/Presenters/Arts Education Panel
  • National Endowment for the Arts, Advancement Phase One Panel
  • San Francisco Arts Commission, Mid-size Organization Panel
  • Meet The Composer, International Creative Collaborations Panel
  • Oakland Cultural Affairs, Advancement Review Panel
  • San Francisco Arts Commission, Cultural Equity Initiatives program, Level 2 panel
  • City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Music Project Support I & II


  • “Taiko”, by Cindy Tong, Bridge: An Asian American Perspective, April 1979
  • “Ethnicity of the Sansei: an Ethnographic Study of Cultural Revitalization Movements in a Japanese American Community in San Jose, California”, by Kazuhiro Ebuchi, Fukuoka, Kyoiku University, March, 1981
  • “Taiko”, by Susan Hayase, East Wind, Winter/Spring 1985
  • “Learning Taiko in America”, Masters Program in Area Studies, by Chie Otsuka, University of Tsukuba, January 14, 1997
  • Taikology Biannual, #16, May 16, 1998
  • Newsweek Japan, The International Newsmagazine, July 24, 2002, by Amy Webb
  • “Learning Together: Practice, Pleasure and Identity In A Taiko Drumming World”, PhD dissertation by Kimberly Powell, School of Education, Stanford University, June 2003
  • “Sounds and Sights of Power: Ensemble Taiko Drumming (kumidaiko) Pedagogy in California and the Conceptualization of Power”, dissertation by Mark Tusler, Music Department, June 2003
  • “Thinking Taiko: A San Jose Taiko Perspective, An interview with PJ Hirabayashi and Roy Hirabayashi” by Linda Uyechi, Asia Society, New York, Sept 2005
  • “The Way of Taiko” by Heidi Varian, Stone Bridge Press, 2005
  • “The Big Drum”, Japanese American National Museum, DVD, 2005
  • Discover Nikkei article by Sojin Kim, September 2011

  • California Arts Council ArtWorks article, September 2011

  • Nichi Bei Times article by Jessica Savage, September 26, 2011

  • NEA audio podcast, August 25, 2011

  • Nick Spitzer, American Routes, November 23, 2011

Television Features[edit]

  • PBS KQED Spark feature, July 2008

  • “This Is Us”, PBS, KTEH, San Jose, May 2009

Oral History Documents[edit]

  • Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, 2005

  • Densho, the Japanese American Legacy Project, 2011


  1. ^ a b c d e“Roy Hirabayashi” Discover Nikkei: Japanese Migrants and their Descendants. Japanese American National Museum, 2010. Web. 5 May 2010.
  2. ^“A Campus In Crisis: The Vietnam Protests at San Jose State University” Retro Cities. Web. 5 May 2010.
  3. ^"San Jose Taiko – Embodying the Spirit of Taiko in America" Big Drum" Taiko in the United States. Japanese American National Museum, 2010. Web. 25 May 2010.
  4. ^ a b "San Jose Taiko – Embodying the Spirit of Taiko in America" Big Drum" Taiko in the United States. Japanese American National Museum, 2010. Web. 25 May 2010.
  5. ^ Yoon, P. 2005. Development and Support of Taiko in the United States. Pp. 25-35. Unpublished manuscript.
  6. ^“San Jose Taiko Milestones” San Jose Taiko 2010. 12 May 2010.
  8. ^ a b "San Jose Taiko Milestones" San Jose Taiko. 2010. Web. 25 May 2010.
  9. ^ Deschênes, Bruno. "Japanese Taiko Drums" 2004. Web. 25 May 2010.
  10. ^ "Strategic Focus : Stronger Arts & Culture Industry : Leadership : MALI (Multicultural Arts Leadership Initiative)" 1st ACT Silicon Valley. 2009. Web. 25 May 2010.