Honkyoku for beginners
A bit more than a month ago, I released a booklet for beginners made of simplified versions of four short honkyoku. To celebrate the 4th anniversary of this blog on December 13th, I will be giving a ZOOM presentation about one of them, Yamato Choshi. My wish is to explain how to go from the simplified to the full version of this piece. I will be introducing along the Hijiri-Kai style. The presentation will be followed by a Q&A. To register, contact me or scroll down.
A few weeks after I released this booklet, I found this quote, from one of the greatest shakuhachi masters, Yokoyama Katsuya:
“It is important to grasp the main themes and melodies of a piece without getting lost or caught up in the pursuit of various techniques and minor themes.”
“Grasping the main themes and melodies” is exactly what my booklet for beginners is about. I think that it is not always easy to identify them when you are a beginner. The Japanese musical notation is very often seen as challenging. Actually, what is challenging is to notate a honkyoku!
As Yokoyama Sensei writes:
“Honkyoku are alive. It is very difficult to capture them on paper. Honkyoku sheet music is like a snapshot of but one aspect of the piece. It is helpful in giving us an idea of what the song is about, but it cannot come close to describing the totality.”
But what is a honkyoku at the first place? Here is a definition by Yokoyama Sensei:
The songs for shakuhachi are now called honkyoku which means they were originally created for the shakuhachi. […]
The “hon” in honkyoku can mean “expressing one’s true intention” or “one’s own tune” […]
Shakuhachi honkyoku is music that expresses a state of mind. It expresses the performer’s capacity as well as consciousness.” […]
There is no way to know how the melodies were first executed far back in history. In fact, the very nature of this body of music – with its purpose of “expressing one’s true intention” or “one’s own tune”- means that the piece will inevitably change gradually over time along with the spirit of each age.
These quotes are very important to understand the spirit of honkyoku and how to keep it alive. Simplified versions help to get an idea of the main lines and to start “expressing one’s true intention” without too many technical information. As the shakuhachi beginner student progresses in his/her technique and comprehension of the music, more details can be included, as Yokoyama Sensei wrote:
Honkyoku pieces are made up of major and minor themes. The level of detail included in any honkyoku score should depend on the level of the player.”
Make it your own
More advanced players also benefit of having a clear vision of the honkyoku they are practicing. The proper choice of ornaments, techniques, phrasing, makes it becoming your own – your “one’s own tune”. Challenge yourself to not only repeat what was taught to you, what you listened from performances of shakuhachi masters, but also to understand how it is built, what it is about and what it means to YOU.
Remember that interpretation of the songs will differ from player to player during actual performance.
Ready for December 13th?
The presentation is free for everyone who purchased my booklet “Honkyoku for beginners” and for my current students.
For other participants the fee is 20€.
The Zoom presentation will be recorded so that you can watch it again and practice. It will be sent to all participants. If you are interested, just contact me or register here:
Online Presentation Yamato Choshi
YAMATO CHOSHI: From simplified to full version. Introduction to the Hijiri-Kai style. December 13, 7:30-9:00 PM (CET, UTC+1)
After registration is completed, you will get the notation and the link to participate.
Looking forward to meeting you online!
All Yokoyama’s quotes come from the book: “Shakuhachi Koten Honkyoku – Practice, Techniques & Notation”.