Shakuhachi and dementia: how it started

April 2014

I’m starting a volunteer job in a dementia care home, playing shakuhachi for the people in their bedrooms (individual visits) and during a massage activity (small group). I’ve never done that before and don’t know what to expect. I’m told that the goal is to connect to the patients, in one way or another, to reach them through the music. All kind of emotions can occur. “Don’t insist if they don’t want it or if it’s not the right moment, and don’t take it personal if they react negatively.” That was my formation for this job. Let’s do it!

Continue reading Shakuhachi and dementia: how it started

A nature funeral

She lies in her bed, in the living-room, close to the window with view on the garden. I’m playing for her, from a distance, very softly, I don’t even see her under the blankets. I don’t know if she can hear me. In a couple of weeks, she will be dead.

I met the family in a sunny afternoon of October, after I received a unusual and touching email. “My wife is dying, she asked for live shakuhachi music to be played at her funeral, is it something we can ask you?”  Continue reading A nature funeral

Waterlelie, January 2017

I’m coming again, first time after the Christmas holidays. It’s a sunny and very cold day outside. Inside it’s very warm as ever. You don’t really feel the seasons here, it’s always very warm.

Going to the closed world of people stuck in their minds. Front door with security, first door with code, corridors, second door with code, corridors, turn right, turn left, here I am.

The first person we visit is Mrs Kisses. I give her this nickname because when she’s enjoying something, she grabs your hand to kiss it. Last time I was in her bedroom, it was her birthday, I think she turned 90 but I’m not sure anymore. I remember I hesitated to play a birthday song but I finally didn’t. She looks at us, not really reacting. And then she sees the flute, her eyes light up, and she points her finger to it with a big smile. And she starts to kiss A.’s hands.

When I started to play for people with dementia almost 3 years ago, I was told they won’t recognise me even if I was coming every day. From the beginning, I could notice that, although they most likely didn’t remember me, some of them did recognise the shakuhachi. Each time this happens, it gives me a warm feeling. Continue reading Waterlelie, January 2017

Komuso monks in Tokyo, April 2005

My first day in Japan, my first day in Tokyo… I didn’t know where to go so I decided to go to a park. Seeking nature in such a big city instead of running to see temples, modern buildings, palaces, shops, museums… that’s me…

At that time, I knew very little about the shakuhachi. I had one, I had taken a few lessons but I wasn’t getting much further than playing the basic notes and a few simple melodies. I had taken my shakuhachi in my suitcase -“to play in the metro” said ironically to me a musician of our orchestra- to see if I would get more inspired to play it in Japan. It’s not that I missed inspiration or desire to play it, no at the time I missed time to think and make a decision. Actually I took this time just before going to Japan, but was not conscious yet that shakuhachi was part of the choices I would have to make in my life. Continue reading Komuso monks in Tokyo, April 2005

Ro-buki

“If you have only five minutes in your day to practice your shakuhachi, play RO” (Fukuda Teruhisa).

Otsu-no-RO is the lowest note on the shakuhachi, all holes are closed. Practicing RO is very good your for your breath and embouchure control, and also to concentrate on the way you hold your  flute. It’s a good exercise to be aware of the tensions of your body and try to remove them, and find the just balance between relaxation and keeping the proper shape of the sound. It is recommended to blow RO at least 5 minutes, up to 10 minutes. Longer is of course possible, as long as you stay concentrated and don’t cramp. Blowing Kan-no-RO is also an interesting alternative I’ll develop later.

I found a few months ago on the website of Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos some very interesting variations to the practice of RO-buki. They give the possibility to train a large range of sounds while practicing only one tone… a shakuhachi achievement… Here are his tips, combining blowing and dynamics training: Continue reading Ro-buki

Daily meditation with the shakuhachi

Meditation with shakuhachi is different than practicing or performing. There is no artistic goal. It is full concentration and full acceptation, without judgement. I have a few standard exercises to get started, and, depending on the days, I like to experiment and try new things. I generally put on a timer and decide how long I’m going to practice.

Continue reading Daily meditation with the shakuhachi