In a bit less than a month, the International Shakuhachi Festival Prague 2019 (ISFP 19) will start. This 5-day festival (September 12-16) is one of the few big shakuhachi events in Europe (another one being the European Shakuhachi Society Summer School). It will be held in various beautiful venues in the historical city of Prague (Czech Republic) and the program is awesome! Check it out here.
For the first time, I will be teaching and performing there and I am quite excited about it! I have been preparing my workshops for months and here is a short presentation about what I will be teaching. I am preparing teaching material and exercise booklets as well, which will be available during the festival.
In another post, I will present the pieces I will be performing.
If you are around, don’t hesitate to join!
When I was invited to teach at the ISFP 19, I asked myself what could be useful for most people regardless of schools, styles and levels. A workshop gives space to address subjects that are not systematically taught during individual lessons, which are more focused on learning a specific piece. So I decided to offer 2 workshops, (beside the “Absolute beginners workshop” I’ll be teaching as well), about two technical points which matter a lot to me: “Warm-up Routines” and “Intonation”.
1. Warm-up Routines
This subject is one of my favorites, I wrote already 2 posts about it! (see Warm-up Routines and Practicing Daily), because I’ve noticed many times that it is very often skipped, considered as not necessary, or a waste of time, or boring, or whatever other reason not to do it. The truth is that it is a very important moment which will save you time and frustration. And it can also help to prevent pain or injury. It just takes 5 to 10 minutes, so why skip it?
Your first sounds of the day
During the workshop, I will be giving some examples of exercises, but the most important aspect of warming up is actually about your mindset: although being a routine, a warm-up shouldn’t be mechanical at all. It should be a very special moment to ask yourself the following questions:
How do I listen to my first sounds of the day?
How do I listen to the space before and after these sounds?
How do I listen to my body when I play?
What can I learn from these first sounds, what do they tell me about what I later should pay attention to?
I start all my lessons with all my students having them playing long tones. It is the way I learned it from Daniel Seisoku Lifermann. This is a routine that I encourage them to integrate, especially out of the lessons, when they practice at home.
Long tones can have many variations, it is never boring. Staying with your breath in the present moment requires all your attention!
And very often, before the long tones, we start the lessons in silence with a short moment of breathing awareness. I do it systematically with beginners, and I actually love to do it myself, to center and get grounded in silence. Because the silence is where the music starts. If you can create a beautiful inner silence, you have more chance to create a beautiful tone when you blow.
Mindfulness & full awareness
Warming up can become a true moment of mindfulness: you don’t aim to achieve anything, you just blow and notice how it goes, with full awareness and curiosity, listening to yourself and to what your flute is telling you about yourself. Notice your level of concentration, motivation, physical energy, how you feel emotionally, spiritually, how you sound at the beginning of your session, how your sound changes during the warming-up, or not, how your body responds (lips, mouth, fingers,…),… In short, connect to yourself.
The most challenging part might be not to judge yourself and not to repeat something that didn’t go well or start practicing it. It is not the time yet. Let go of it, stay in the moment, stay in the flow of your breath, release tensions and expectations. Be curious and gentle with yourself. If your mind wanders, notice it as well and come back to your breath and your sound.
I usually walk slowly while blowing, without stopping, and it helps me a lot to stay in mouvement, supple, and not to contract my muscles or block my breath.
Starting your session with giving yourself the time to ground your breath and your sound (and to warm up your instrument) will give you a feeling of “being at home” in any situation. The more you do the same ritual at the beginning of each session, the more it becomes familiar. If you don’t play regularly, it is also the easiest way to find back your bearings rapidly.
Getting to know yourself better (your weak points but also your strong points) will help you to build self-confidence and orient your practice efficiently.
When you get used to listen carefully to yourself, let go of mistakes, turn off negative self-talk and ground yourself in silence, all this becomes incredibly useful when you come to perform. The more it is integrated, the faster you can have access to it whenever you need it.
That’s the point of creating a routine and that is how powerful a good warm-up can be.
2. Intonation: practicing intervals & secret connections between tones for playing honkyoku
This is the complete name of my workshop!
Intonation is an important subject for playing music. Given that the shakuhachi has holes that have been carefully bored by the maker in order to produce a correct basic scale and allow you to play all the other notes, you cannot skip practicing intonation.
Intonation is not easy, and the goal of my workshop is to help you build up tools you can rely on.
Pitch training can require considerable motivation, time, effort, and learning is not retained without constant practice and reinforcement. (Wikipedia)
So we’ll be practicing! We’ll be practicing specific intervals and we will look closer into the secret connections between notes. I call them “secret” because they are not always obvious, or taught. And these connections need to be practiced as well. We are often too busy with the notation to fully pay attention to them, or even notice them. If you were just listening, it would sometimes become much more obvious!
We will look at examples in different honkyokus, so that you can start to find them afterwards by yourself, in your own repertoire.
I hope that knowing about these connections will give you a better insight about how honkyoku are structured, how to keep control of the pitch throughout a piece, and how to make a honkyoku sound more profound, beyond the notation.
Hope to see you in Prague!