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 asks for live shakuhachi music to be played at her funeral, is this something we can ask you?”
I wasn’t sure I would be able to do that, it’s so personal. For family and friends, it feels natural for me to play during the ceremony, but for perfect strangers?… “She has a CD of shakuhachi” insists the husband, “that’s the music she wants, can you play it?” He is so concerned to respect her will, all the last little things he still can do for her. I ask to see the CD, wondering which kind of shakuhachi music it will be. Will it be my style, something close to it, or not at all? It turns out to be this CD:
Could barely have been much closer: my master’s master! What a coincidence.
I explain them the meaning of the different pieces on the CD. When I mention the Cranes (Tsuru-no-sugomori), father and son jump unanimously: “this is for her!” I don’t totally get why, but it doesn’t matter, it’s so obvious for them that this piece has to be played to accompany her coffin, I don’t need details. As another coincidence, I just started practicing it again a few days ago. Then I offer in addition to play Tamuke, as a last prayer. They agree.
#1 – Honte Choshi (Hon Shirabe)
Three weeks later, I’m going to play again, in a big aula, full of sad faces. I’m standing in front of them. Why did the family hire a professional photograph to make pictures? He is doing his job discreetly but makes me feel I’m performing instead of just being here. I’m going to play after the speech of the husband, very emotional. The advantage of living in a foreign country is that I can still from time to time disconnect from the meaning of the words. Silence in my head, peace. Concentration. I stand up to play, but the assistant of the ceremony officer (no idea how these people are called) starts to play a CD. The ceremony officer gives him a discrete sign that it’s not the right moment and he stops immediately. It lasts only a few seconds but I have another music in my head now. I have to find silence again. I wait a few more seconds until the silence in my head is back.
In my play, I try to imitate the warm and soft sound of Miyata Kohachiro I heard on the CD, I play on the special 2.4 I got from Fukuda-sensei this summer. It’s hard to add something meaningful to the silence. I play with the hope of giving some comfort to the audience after the moving speech of the husband.
#2 – Tsuru no Sugomori
I was not very enthusiastic with the idea of playing outside on a cold foggy morning at the end of October, but it was so important for them I couldn’t refuse. The day before, I practiced in the woods near where I live. The sun was shining through the trees, it was quiet and cold. I chose a heavy bamboo with bindings from top to bottom, it should be fine. Walking while playing Tsuru-no-sugomori is a way Fukuda-sensei has shown us many times, I just have to try, I can do it.
Today, I notice how fast the flute cools down, how fast the condensation appears. I’m quite technical in emotional moments, it’s my way to be able to play. Cause today it’s not quiet. People are working, cutting trees or mowing the lawn, I don’t exactly know. I have this nasty noise around me and I don’t know if I’m loud enough. The procession comes fast, the coffin lies on a trolley. I welcome them with the music and follow them. In a glimpse, I cross the husband’s eyes. Did I just see a glitter of gratitude in this ocean of sorrow?
#3 – Tamuke
We’re standing around the open grave for the last farewell, under a tree. The sun didn’t manage to break through the mist, it’s such a grey and sad autumn day. A nature funeral means that you’re buried directly in the ground, in biodegradable materials. Now it’s really quiet. Silent, cold and grey. Last time I stood before an open grave, I was 21 and it was my mother’s burial. I feel the petrified shivering grandchildren, beyond tears, beyond understanding. I put all my love in my play, all my love for my mother, all my love for this woman I don’t know, her family and friends. Tamuke is such a powerful piece.
We walk back. Some people thank me for my play, a few of them asks me from which side I knew the deceased. I said I didn’t know her, that our only connection is the shakuhachi.