Back from the ISFP 19!

The International Shakuhachi Festival Prague 2109 (ISFP19) took place one month ago and it was a fantastic event. I had the great honour to be invited by Marek Kimei Matvija to perform and teach and I prepared for this event for months. I put a lot of efforts in my preparations: not only practicing, but also writing teaching materials and composing new pieces. And the festival turned out to be beyond expectations.

I had been to the Prague festival before, as a student in 2010 and 2011 and I learned a lot at that time. My first time there was the year when the European Shakuhachi Society (ESS) organised their annual Summerschool during the Prague festival. It was a very good way to discover both organisations and teams.

(On the photos: Christopher Yohmei Blasdel, Jim Franklin, Shimura Zenpo & Kiku Day, Yamamoto Shinzan, Indian Ragas on shakuhachi by Kees Kort, Ro-Buki, Justin Senryu Williams, and myself practicing for the students concert.)

It was for me the first time I had the opportunity to listen to players from different schools and styles of shakuhachi during concerts and lessons and it makes a huge difference from listening to CDs. There were various talks as well, which enabled me to understand much better why shakuhachi sounds so different from one player to another and why there are different notations. It increased my understanding and knowledge about Japanese music and traditions and took me to the next level of my shakuhachi journey. It also confirmed my personal choice about the Hijiri School.
Looking back to how I came to shakuhachi and to Fukuda Teruhisa’s school, I tend to believe people who say that you don’t find the shakuhachi, it finds you.

So this was 9 years ago! How exciting it was to be back in Prague this year on the teacher/performer side, ready to share some of the Hijiri-kai spirit and music!

I really liked how the festival was structured: there were workshops, study groups, concerts, a symposium, and two shakuhachi making workshops before and after the festival. Each concert had a specific theme and a specific venue matching the theme to get the most of the music. The Zen concert in the beautiful Church of St Lawrence under Petřín was a breathtaking (and giving) moment.
The study groups allowed small groups of students to go deeper into a music piece during 3 or 4 lessons. The workshops were about technical subjects or specificities. I was lucky to have time in my schedule to attend other teachers’ workshops and listen to their teaching. I loved the “Min’yo workshop for honkyoku players” given by Obama Akihito, where I learned the korogashi technique. Sugawara Kuniyoshi sensei’s presentation about “Using vocal cords when playing shakuhachi” was surprising. I expected something about singing while playing, but it came out being about the (anatomical) role of the vocal cords while we play, and how this role evolves from a beginner to a professional player. Fascinating! We don’t pay much attention to human anatomy and this presentation was an eye-opener.

There were also koto workshops leaded by the top solist Makiko Goto, who gave a phenomenal solo performance during the third evening’s concert.

It was great to meet again with Adrian Freedman, whom I had invited in Holland just 2 weeks before Prague for an inspiring workshop and concert at the Japanese Cultural Center Shofukan in Rotterdam. And to listen again to Justin Senryu Williams and follow his class about Shin’Ya (a honkyoku I like a lot and that we don’t have in our repertoire).  And of course Stefan Lenz, who always brings an impressive collection of flutes to sell.
I enjoyed getting to know John Kaizan Neptune, Dietmar Ippu Herringer and Seizan Osako during nice and informal discussions. Dietmar’s class about “Icchoken Honte Choshi” was inspiring too, at the same time similar and different from our Hijiri-Kai Honte Choshi: similar in essence, different in details. Like saying the same thing with a different accent. At the end, it is all about breath, sound and silence.

I also deeply appreciated the meeting with Czech artists, especially my fellow performers during the opening concert (Ivo Hucl & Marcel Bárta, Hiromi Ogata & Pavel Janšta, and Jaromír Typlt) and the amazing Lucie Vítková on hichiriki, improvisations and compositions. It was very interesting to discover Marek Kimei Matvija’s work as a filmmaker, and his performance during the Zen concert was beautiful.

The festival world premiered pieces by Adrian Freedman, Lucie Vítková, Hiroya Miura and Jan Rösner, with John Kaizan Neptune and Obama Akihito as soloists (but I missed this last concert and the students concert, I was already traveling back). In a way, Justin Senryu Williams’ performance of an “extremely rare shakuhachi version of Rokudan, from Ikkan Ryū notation written in 1772 played on an Edo period 1.7 shakuhachi made by a student of Kurosawa Kinko III” was a kind of premiere as well.

My own contribution

I needed a good preparation not to be overwhelmed by all these top performers from Japan and Europe (!) and to find my way to express my own voice and the Hijiri-kai spirit, if not repertoire. I must say I am very happy with the result.  I was thrilled to perform at the opening concert outdoors Elizabeth Brown’s pieces about birds, the Shakuhachi Solos from Isle Royale. What you loose in acoustic in playing outside, you gain in atmosphere. I played the birds as if they were singing and flying around in the Czech night!

(photos: Petr Borovička)

My teaching contribution consisted in three workshops, one about Warm-up routines, one about Intonation and one for beginners. I prepared specific teaching materials for the occasion and even sold some copies of my “10 Easy Pentatonic Melodies for Beginners“.
I didn’t teach any Hijiri-Kai repertoire though, but I believe that the Hijiri spirit was to be found back in my workshops.

(Photos: Petr Borovička)

But the most challenging moment for me of all the festival was when I performed my own compositions, “Gorée – La Porte du Non-Retour” and “Tambin” during two open mic concerts. Gorée is a prayer for the souls of the slaves who were deported from Africa to America. And Tambin refers to my favourite flute (after the shakuhachi), the Peul Flute called Tambin.
These two pieces, combining my African roots with the shakuhachi, mean a lot to me. The venues for the open mics were maybe not the best places, but I believe that the open sky above me was actually the best location for Gorée‘s prayers to reach the sky and free the souls. I will work on getting more opportunities to perform these pieces again! And I have already started to work on the next composition for my “African Solo Series” for Shakuhachi.

In conclusion, it was very special to meet so many people – artists, participants, audience, and even some followers of this blog!!- and share our music and our love for shakuhachi. Thanks to Marek Kimei Matvija and the rest of the organising team, Anna, Klara and Ivo, who were always so kind and ready to help.
I am so grateful to you all for making it a fantastic festival!

Next edition in 2021, 9-13 September. See you there!

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(with Anna & Marek Matvija, and Klara.)


5 thoughts on “Back from the ISFP 19!”

  1. Another excellent blog piece Helene! Oh how I long to have been able to experience an event like this, and your descriptions give a fine taste and feel for those of us unable to attend. Again I am inspired with love of all things Shakuhachi. Many thanks for sharing!!

    Liked by 1 person

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