When you start practicing honkyoku (traditional zen pieces), you will discover soon enough that none of them are easy. But some of them are short. These are called “Chōshi” or “Chō”. These short pieces are meant to warm up and tune in with yourself, the room and the audience if there is any. I like to call them “Meditation preludes“.
In the tradition of the Meian school of shakuhachi, the performer first warms up the bamboo and settles the mind for spiritual practice through the playing of a short introductory prelude piece. Expressing the essential spirit of Koten honkyoku, Chōshi (literally, small melody) serves to establish the pitch and to center the musician. This piece is characterised by a pure focus on breath.
While having to keep physical distanciation for who knows how long, meeting online via Zoom or Skype has become a good alternative to connect to each other.
Earlier this year, the “RO-BUKI Wave Across The World” gave me the idea to create a Shakuhachi Online Community to blow and meditate together once a week. During the sessions, the focus goes inwards, to connect to your body, to your inner peace through your breathing, and to blow with full awareness what your heart tells you (solidarity with the world’s sufferings, healing, compassion, love, emptiness, silence,…), uniting your sounds and efforts with those of the other participants.
The experience of the last months – before the summer break – worked beyond expectations (I didn’t have any actually). It brought a new dimension in my shakuhachi path. Meditating together is not teaching, it is sharing. I deeply enjoyed the connection to fellow shakuhachi players from different countries. Level doesn’t matter. Some participants are my students, some are not. How good this feels.
Once a month, we had a Q&A session which brought very interesting reflexions and interactions in the group.
So it’s time to resume the weekly meetings, starting on September 7. Grab your favorite shakuhachi and let’s RO together!
My first debut CD (or single) is released!! It features 3 compositions for solo shakuhachi in which I explore my African roots as well as the relationships between Japanese and African spiritualities. It is now available online on all digital platforms like Spotify, iTunes, Amazon MusicDeezer, etc. In the coming months, the music notations will be available as well.
It was a huge work, the musical result of which being only the tip of the iceberg. I was dreaming of recording a CD already for years. Honkyoku? Modern music? Birds? At a point, it became obvious that my first recording should be my own compositions. Who I am. Where I come from. And what I can do with a shakuhachi.
This is a follow up to my previous post about Stress & Shakuhachi. As I wrote before, this is a topic which cannot be covered in one or even several posts. And I am not a psychologist nor a professional coach. The aim of these posts is to help you setting things in motion if you are overwhelmed by stress when playing in front of your teacher or in public and end up panicking instead of enjoying.
Stress is a natural emotion. But when it becomes overwhelming, it can be annoying. To my experience, if you don’t do anything about it, it doesn’t go better with the years. It can even get worse, if you find yourself in the same situation again and again. I know very sad stories about professional musicians who couldn’t overcome the stress of playing under pressure and got trapped into a vicious circle going downwards. It is not a matter of level or experience (the “you’ll get used to it“… is rarely true).
The shakuhachi can have a beneficial role in this situation – not that it will remove your stress magically, that would be too easy! – but because it works on long breaths and the breath is directly connected to our emotions. Take a look at what happens to your breath when you are nervous, surprised, scared, laughing, crying,… My magical mantra to release stress in non-shakuhachi situations is “TSU-REEEEE………”
But with your shakuhachi, you can also experience stress: stress of performance (playing before people, before your teacher), stress of the sound not coming out when you want it and how you want it. It can lead to frustrating experiences, blocking you in sharing your music and enjoying doing it. Leaving it to chance (“maybe next time it will go better“) is not a serious option. Better have a closer look into it.
In the coming months, I will release a series of posts about a selection of pieces, from the very beginner pieces to some advanced ones. In addition to the information about the piece itself that you can already find in the “Repertoire” section, I will give some tips to practice them. NB: Practice tips don’t replace the guidance of a shakuhachi master.
#1. What pieces can you play only in the low register (otsu)?
When you are a beginner, the upper octave (Kan) can be challenging. There is only a couple of honkyoku (to my knowledge) that you can play entirely in the first register: HiFuMi Chōand Kyorei (depending on the version: some versions of Kyorei contain a “kan” section). To provide my students with some extra pieces in the Otsu (low) register, I wrote “10 Easy Pentatonic Melodies“. The first 6 are exclusively in Otsu.
You might have noticed that, since the third anniversary of my blog, I added a “support” button on my home page and at the end of each post. A few people have started to donate and I am very grateful to them. The decision of adding a “Support” or “Donation” button was not an easy one . When I started this blog, I had no idea whether I would stop after 3 posts nor how it would be received. And here we are, more than 3 years later, and I am very proud to say that my blog is being read every single day somewhere in the world (in more than 100 different countries) almost since the beginning!! This is the greatest support I could ever have dreamed of and this is way beyond my expectations. However, to reach this state and to be able to continue to develop the blog, I upgraded the free version to a paid one, as well as for my Soundcloud account, on which I uploaded dozens of recordings in order to help my students to study the repertoire and also to share our Hijiri-Kai music on this website. Upgrades cost money, and the writing of the posts plus the recording and editing of the music, cost time and energy. Time and energy that I am more than happy to spend! But as a professional full-time freelance musician, I also need to earn my living.
The alternative to offering the possibility a voluntary donation would be adding ads. It is not what I want for this blog and I will keep it “ads free” as long as possible. The donation fits better to my shakuhachi philosophy: I feel connected to the Komuso (begging monks) tradition through this online version!
When you subscribe to my blog, it is actually called a Membership. As I like this idea a lot, I have been thinking about it for a while – especially since the global lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In these particular and difficult times of social distancing, I feel even more how we all are connected, and how important it is to keep blowing together and stay in touch. So I have come up with a few ideas to make possible that a donation through my blog becomes a real Membership. After the amazing experience of the Robuki wave across the planet, I would like to use this opportunity to set up an English and a French community group!!
As it is difficult to make long term plans at the moment, I’d like to start with a trial period of 2 months (May-June 2020) and see how it goes.
I hope this post finds you well. The situation in the world at the moment is so chaotic, how are you coping with it? I am grateful to be healthy. Where I live, I feel reasonably safe. Of course, there is always a little risk, but we stay at home most of the time, are very careful when going shopping and hardly see anyone from outside. We are not locked down in the Netherlands, and as my husband and I live very close to a nature preserve, we can enjoy the beautiful spring in the early morning and late evening, when it is very quiet. (photo: Wim Scheenen)
As I am used to working a lot at home, I thought that it wouldn’t change too much for me, but actually it does. I think that the main difficulty is the uncertainty. How long will the current situation last? I fully realise now how much time I normally spend planning and organising things on a long term basis, and now, it is week after week… The second difficulty is the social distancing. Luckily we have computers, phones and media. I must say that the daily online Robuki has become a great meeting point to blow together and stay connected. In all these circumstances, the shakuhachi and its wisdom helps me go through these difficult times. What does it bring to me?
When most of us on the planet are more or less locked down at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, when lots of stressful information are endless released all around the world, I was wondering “what can I do, as a shakuhachi player?” And then I got this message from Kiku Day:
“We are a group of shakuhachi players who did a little brain storm andwe came up with the idea of a ROBUKI WAVE. We suggest to make a ROBUKI WAVE across our planet as a gesture of solidarity, contemplation and healing of the situation with Covid-19 we are in at present! Join us playing ROBUKI at 12 noon your own time for as long or short as you want. We start tomorrow Monday 23rd March 2020! We will at least continue for a week and see if we continue further. Imagine as the Earth rotate there will be people playing robuki at 12 noon across the whole planet. […Facebook event details…] We will try to make a video with ROBUKIi across the whole planet afterwards.”
I immediately loved the idea of blowing RO together to connect and join our efforts and thoughts for the planet. I passed on the message to my students and friends in the Netherlands & Belgium and some of them reacted with a strong enthusiasm. This made me think that it would be nice to meet up online to blow together. I had never used ZOOM before, so it was a good opportunity to learn quickly how to use it and set up a daily Robuki-meeting!
After a long Winter period, I was ready for Spring and couldn’t wait to get started. Next to the usual individual lessons, I had again some performances & workshops planed. They all didn’t resist the restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, like everywhere in the world for many many many other freelance artists…
What does this pandemic tell us about ourselves? Since the last weeks, I see that it forces us to think different and be creative. I see so many nice initiatives popping up online and in real (playing at your window for or with your neighbours). And for myself, I see it as a new challenge. And it reminds me every day how important health is, how important it is to live a healthy life and care for others. Protect yourself, and also protect the others. In our very individualist modern societies, the Coronavirus shows us how strongly we are all interconnected and that we cannot ignore that.
“Man sacrifices is health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present. As a result he does not live in the present or in the future. He lives as if he is never going to die and then dies having never really lived.”
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
So it is time to live in the present! To find new ways and enjoy being connected! As well as my colleagues around the world, I will get more online the coming months. Starting with teaching. How does this work?