The World Shakuhachi Festival (WSF) in London was a great place to meet and listen to a lot of different shakuhachi players. On this aspect, it was highly inspiring. Nothing can replace live contact and live sound. Our part-time job at the festival allowed us (Daniel Seisoku Lifermann and me) to devote some time to attend several workshops and lectures, and we took some time in-between to talk to people. I was really happy to see old friends again, meet in real some Facebook friends and make some new friends, even though it was so busy and everything went so fast that it was difficult to go beyond fast contacts. It was really difficult for each teacher to present himself, his style, music and notation in one hour and ten minutes to a bench of students with various backgrounds, knowledge and level. Most of them started with: “I don’t have much time but…”, and somehow, they managed to give an idea of what they wanted to pass on.
As I said before, I couldn’t attend all the workshops and concerts I would have loved to go to. The people I am going to talk about in this post are those I could meet and feel immediately connected to, impressed or inspired by. It is very personal and reflecting my own interests at the moment. They were a lot of great players who were impressive to listen to, and people I just haven’t got the chance to meet this time. So don’t expect an exhaustive list of shakuhachi performers and/or composers here, but just those I particularly hope to stay in contact with, continue to follow their work and inspiration, and hopefully meet again.
Elizabeth Brown (USA, New York)
Earlier this year, I had an e-mail contact with Elizabeth about her duet for flute and shakuhachi Acadia I have been practicing with my friend and flutist Catherine Balmer for a new and very exciting project. I couldn’t wait to meet her at WSF London and I had planned to attend her workshop on Day 2 and concert on Day 4. Actually she came to me already on Day 1 after the concert where we played Atuski Sumi’s piece Hamori, to tell us how much she liked it. She would even write the composer, with whom she had been in contact previously, and she did. Couldn’t start better. The next day, we went to her workshop about her piece Loons (a sort of waterbird in North America). Her precise instructions, sensibility and modesty guided us through the piece without feeling rushed by the 1-hour-and-ten minutes, piece we could entirely play at the end of the workshop.
What inspires me in Elizabeth’s work is her deep connection to nature and her perfect knowledge of shakuhachi. I love nature and birdwatching, and part of playing shakuhachi for me is being connected to nature. In her music, I find it back, very present. She has original and clear ways to obtain the exact sound and inflexions she wants, and it opens new possibilities to explore the flute. Back home, I listened to her CD Mirage she gave me and could discover more of her beautiful music. I can’t describe it better than what is written on the CD notes:
The music of Elizabeth Brown revels in paradox, but of a subtle kind. The strangeness of the music sneaks up on you; its liquid, mellifluous quality masks a far more radical stance. […] There is a genuine romantic sensibility, yet it exists in a soundworld that can only be avant-garde. But the avant-gardisme is in turn presented within a sensibility that is tender, sweet, and toy-like. In short it expresses a genuine innocence, something we encounter far too rarely in a era of postmodern irony. […]
Robert Carl (chair of the composition department at University of Hartford)
More about her at: www.elizabethbrowncomposer.com
Adrian Freedman (UK, Dartington)
As a yoga practitioner, I was very curious to attend Adrian’s workshop about his piece Seijaku, including a demonstration of some yogic Pranayama breath control exercises and other breathing techniques. I was already following Adrian’s work through his newsletters and website, so I knew a little about him.
What I really liked in his workshop was his calm way to teach, the various breathing exercises we did and his deep control of stillness. Also his way to play long tones and his soft way to practice Ro-Buki, the “Yin way”. We practiced just the beginning of his piece, based on an eolian mode, but enough to continue on our own, and he performed it during a lunch concert. Here are my impressions I wrote him afterwards about his performance.
I was very impressed by the way you managed to establish silence in this big noisy busy impersonal hall and how you managed to ground yourself, and us with you, in your silence before even starting playing. The quality of your silence took us in the beautiful stillness of your piece Seijaku and gave us a magical moment of peace. In this hectic festival where we were constantly solicited, it was refreshing and regenerating to listen to you, and just be, with you, in the music and your long soft sounds, emerging from silence and going back to it.
Music and silence became one and I was so impressed by it that I congratulated him for his silence, instead of his playing!
We’ll meet again.
More about Adrian Freedman: www.adrianfreedman.com
Frank Denyer (UK, Berinsfield)
I didn’t know the English composer Frank Denyer, and attending his lecture about his compositions for shakuhachi and his collaboration with Iwamoto Yoshikazu was a great discovery. It is a pity than less than ten people were present for this lecture. I was impressed how far this collaboration went to explore the possibilities beyond the edges of the shakuhachi and what came out of it. We heard just a fragment of Winged Play performed by Iwamoto Yoshikazu during the lecture, it was very strong and touching. What an incredibly personal world! It opens new perspectives about what you can do with a shakuhachi. Luckily, there were more opportunities to listen to Frank Denyer’s music during the festival, during a lunch concert and an evening concert. The latter I missed, for my deepest shame, having a shakuhachi overdose moment (meaning I couldn’t concentrate on listening to anything anymore) and needing to rest in order to be fresh for our own concert the day after. Difficult choices sometimes.
More about Frank Denyer: www.frankdenyer.eu
Anne Norman (Australia, Mornington)
There are not lots of women playing shakuhachi at a professional level so I am always curious to listen to them. I had Anne Norman already for a while as a Facebook friend so I knew a little about her. She gave a workshop about “Techniques in alternating sung lyrics and blown notes” and I was very curious about it. I already used some singing techniques with my Senegalese (Peul) flute but not really with shakuhachi. It was also mentioned that she had been inspired by the pygmies of Central Africa. Interesting combination. As you may have understood by now, I am currently looking for new inspirations and techniques to develop my own style of shakuhachi-telling-stories. The workshop was inspiring and I was happy to talk to her afterwards. I discovered she also writes texts, so I think we have more things in common that we could briefly discuss during the festival. We’ll stay in touch.
More about Anne Norman: www.annenorman.com
Suto Shuho (Japan, Koyasan)
Another woman playing shakuhachi, and a Buddhist nun since 2005, I was very curious! She began her workshop chanting some sacred chants in a room purified by incense. This was very special! Then she explained some specificities of the Kinpū-ryū / Nezasa-ha style. As we have some Nezasa-ha pieces in our Hijirikai repertoire, it was interesting to listen to her explanations, in which I could find back Fukuda sensei’s explanations, and understand even better what what is and where it comes from. I failed again to understand how to play proper Komibuki, but I’ll keep on trying. Since I went to Hokkaido last year, I would like to compose some pieces about it, and the hard wind / blowing Nezasa-ha style seems to me the closest inspiration to start from, as there is no old tradition of shakuhachi playing on Hokkaido (as far as I know).
New Generation Japanese players: Kawamura Kizan, Kuroda Reison, Obama Akihito (Japan, Tokyo)
These three performers are so strong, so full of energy, so inspired and involved in what they are playing!! When you can feel by some Japanese masters that tradition has stiffened a little the inspiration, these three young performers blow all the dust away!
I heard Kawamura Kizan at the ESS Summerschool in 2015 in Paris where he was performing perfectly with his father, and I was happy to listen to him again in various styles, on top of the pure Tozan-ryū. I heard some recordings and videos of Obama Akihito and was looking forward to hearing him live. And Kuroda Reison was totally new to me. He won actually the Hogaku competition during the festival.
All three can play as well traditional and contemporary music as improvisation, they are creative and inspired, I couldn’t get enough of listening to them!
Perry Yung (USA, New York)
Perry came with an home-made pre-concert performance called “Breath”. It was very surprising and touching at the same time. I didn’t know he was also an actor but this makes sense. I don’t know whether his story was true (his mum dying while he was in the plane coming back to her), but this story really happened to one of my friends for both his parents, and the second one just a few days after WSF 18, so it did resonate in me. It was very original, indescribable, personal. I was happy to meet him afterwards.
He is well known as a flute maker.
More about Perry Yung: www.yungflutes.com
Christopher Yohmei Blasdel (USA, Honolulu)
I met Christopher in 2010 in Prague and he was my first Kinko-ryū teacher. How much did I struggle on practicing Hi Fu Mi Hachigaeschi no Shirabe at that time!!! One year later, in 2011, after having intensively listened to his CD “Visionary tones”, I could follow his teaching much better, including the contemporary piece his taught then. But after that, I moved to Holland in 2012 and couldn’t go to Prague anymore. I was happy to meet him again in London. It gave me the opportunity to buy his CD “Striking Light Striking Dark” at the festival’s shop, to which I listened when back home. I will write a special post about this CD in the coming weeks, because I find it VERY special.
More about Christopher Yohmei Blasdel: www.yohmei.com
Beyond my style
This short (but long post!) and eclectic list represents the people I felt most connected to in my research to develop my own voice, to get closer to myself. Since my youth, I have been writing texts: stories, poems, tales, diaries, shows, and now this blog. Since my last trip to Japan in 2017, I am trying to write music as well. Beyond schools and styles, I am interested in the person behind the flute, and the way they are developing their own musical personality. My master Fukuda Teruhisa is always creating new versions and composing new music. His style is very much spirited and he is guiding us to find our inner voice and freedom, which makes me ask myself how I want to grow inside his school and style, where I feel perfectly at home. Belonging to a school doesn’t mean I’m not liking other styles, even if they are very different from the way I play myself. I was really touched by the soft and fragile sounds of Okuda Atsuya, Shimura Zenpo, Seian Genshin and other Jinashi shakuhachi players. I loved the komuso performance of Fujiyoshi Etsuzan and his humor. I didn’t mention yet all the great koto and shamisen players who performed as well during the festival, thanks to the incredible and discrete work of Michael Soumei Coxall. Above all, I was really impressed by the perfection and the beauty of the sankyoku performances by David Kansuke II Wheeler. I was happy to hear Riley Lee live, to discover Sugawara Kuniyoshi, Nomura Hozan and the surprising nohkan transposition on shakuhachi by Tanabe Shozan, and listening to Kobayashi Yodo II brought back nice memories.
Once again, this list is not exhaustive and there are a lot of performers I didn’t get the chance to listen to. Maybe another time!
Next WSF will be held in Chaozhou, China, in 2022.