Flute & Shakuhachi

From flute to shakuhachi

I played the Western flute for 40 years, and in 2016, I completely stopped and even sold my instruments (except the G-flute). My flute story was a complicated one, which ended up in peace thanks to the shakuhachi. My flute was the path that lead me to the shakuhachi and I am very grateful for it.

One of the reasons I totally stopped playing the Western flute is the shakuhachi tone quest. At a point, I was blocked in my tone development by the fact of playing the flute. It is a personal choice, some people can play them both. I guess it also depends on what type of sound you are looking for. I am personally not looking for a sound that looks like the Western flute, I am even not looking for a “nice” sound at all. I will definitively never play classical music on shakuhachi! I am looking for all the possibilities of sounds of the instrument and what I can do with each tone, without aesthetic criteria and judgements.
I am looking for freedom.

Another reason is that I had to let go of some habits and reflexes I had with the flute in order to build up another approach of the breath, the sound and the music for playing shakuhachi properly. At a moment, it became too confusing. I like to be fully engaged when I do something. No compromise with the shakuhachi!

But I still love the flute, this old companion, and I enjoy listening to it even more now that I don’t play it anymore (all the competitive and comparison thoughts I had in my head back from my time at the Conservatoire for exams, auditions, etc., are gone!!).
So I am very glad when, two years ago, my friend the flutist Catherine Balmer and I started to discuss the possibility of playing together as a flute & shakuhachi duo.

And here is the result:


What I love with the shakuhachi is that the path is as enjoyable as the result. And I’m having the same with this duo.

Our common quest is: how to make our worlds meet, how to mix our sounds and have them keep their own personalities?
To start with, I already had the notation of the duet Acadia by Elizabeth Brown, which is originally composed for flute and shakuhachi. It is a lovely and challenging piece, beautifully written for both instruments, as Elizabeth masters them both.
Then I remembered my duet with Fukuda Teruhisa in 2006, when I was a beginner shakuhachi student and had the great opportunity to perform with him at the end of the summer school.
And then I thought of the mysterious and captivating duet Hamori by Atsuki Sumi, that could also be played by the flute.

About nature & spirituality

Quite rapidly, the nature came up as underlying theme. We already had an American National Park, a Japanese leaf keeper in the mountains, a landscape with a dove. I added an Owl and the Japanese Cranes as solo pieces to complete the journey.

The choice of an Ascèse for G-flute by André Jolivet came up very naturally, as Jolivet was inspired by Asian spiritualities. While I was listening to Catherine playing the Ascèse nº4, I realised that I practiced and played these Ascèses so often for so many years just for myself (and only a few times in concert), that these pieces must have been for me all that time a kind of  personal “honkyoku“, way before I even heard about shakuhachi. Maybe it is the secret reason why I kept my G-flute, I can still play them from time to time!

It is just the beginning of the adventure, I hope you will hear from us again soon! Follow us here.

photos: Pierre-Alain Balmer & Wim Scheenen

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