Category Archives: Shakuhachi inspiration

Shakuhachi Wisdom

Inner & Outer Journey

In the history of shakuhachi, there is a strong shift: when the shakuhachi went from being a spiritual instrument to becoming a music instrument. It was at the end of the XIXe century, during the Meiji era. Actually it was a dreadful period for Zen Buddhism, thus shakuhachi. The Komuso monks were not allowed anymore and had to give lessons and concerts to survive. The shakuhachi took its part in chamber music with koto and shamisen to play “sankyoku“.
Apparently the zen tradition was still allowed in a couple of temples (to be practiced secretly?) and after some time, was allowed more officially again. I am not an historian so forgive my approximations in this story.

What inspires me is how the shakuhachi survived this transition: opening to the outside world. Like it followed an underground stream to reappear further, when its time had come again. In the meantime, the Tozan school of modern shakuhachi was born and Japanese music was more and more influenced by the Western culture.

And then, in the 1960’s, shakuhachi was almost dead again. Shakuhachi master Yokoyama Katsuya realised that the shakuhachi had to be brought further to the outside world, meaning outside of Japan. Shakuhachi reached the USA, Australia, and later Europa and the rest of the world, other Asian countries included. The interest for traditional shakuhachi in Japan is still low (please correct me if I’m wrong here), but still exists. And shakuhachi has reached different of styles of music: jazz, pop music , movies, video games, etc.

Yet, the spiritual tradition is still alive and has been developing more and more outside of Japan as well. This is fascinating. It makes me wonder whether you need a balance between the inner and outer world to embrace shakuhachi fully. If so, how do you find this balance?

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Shakuhachi by Heart

The two last months I have been quite busy recording videos in the nature (read previous blog post about it here). It started a bit out of frustration: concert halls desperately closed for so long, impossibility to make plans to work in the short run, living on the hope that it would get better after the summer when most people got vaccinated to start to perform again,… But hope is not enough and I couldn’t just stay put and wait for the situation to improve. The current pandemic has given me the opportunity to challenge myself to find other ways to create and still go on, like creating a virtual Dojo on Patreon (visit it here).

Outside my confort zone

Some artists in bigger structures and/or better network manage to organise live streams, I don’t. Luckily I love birds and birdsongs. Playing and recording in nature turned out to be a very nice activity yet challenging. It means playing in the cold, in the dark, in the rain, in the mud, in the wind, without the supportive acoustic of a concert hall or any amplification… It means going out of my comfort zone and letting go of my blockages. It means playing by heart.
But it also means being surrounded by birdsongs, enjoying space, deep inner peace, being present to everything happening. This is so rewarding!

In this post, I’ll describe how I pushed my limits and I’ll give some tips to play by heart.

Playing by heart is a path to meditation.

Continue reading Shakuhachi by Heart

SEIYU and the YUU

It has been already one year. One year of pandemic, lockdown, restrictions,… To continue working, I set up online lessons, online meditations, online workshops, a virtual dojo… I even composed a ZOOM-Duet!

It has been already one year and it is also Spring time again, like last year, when everything closed down. From last year I remember the urge of going outside after months of rain and suddenly the emptiness of the streets. I remember contacting people to find concerts and suddenly all events cancelled. I remember wanting to make more (Dutch) friends and suddenly having to avoid people on the streets. I remember going in nature and feeling suspected when I sneezed because of allergies…

When this second year of pandemic started, it was Spring again and Spring shows you how strongly life goes on. Birds are singing, trees begin to bud, timid flowers come out of the ground, you cannot miss it. As I am lucky enough to live close to nature, I have started a new project: playing shakuhachi outdoors and filming it. Watch it here.

Continue reading SEIYU and the YUU

Invitation to my virtual Shakuhachi Dojo!

In the Netherlands we entered 2021 in full lockdown. No fireworks, no party. With the hope that the world situation will improve dramatically in 2021 with vaccination, I started to dream more and more of a virtual space to develop my activities and connect with more people. This dream has become a virtual shakuhachi dojo on Patreon! Discover it here.

What it is exactly ?

It is a space where I will share every month the different aspects of my work with shakuhachi: recordings, meditations, tutorial videos and creations. Choose your abonnement and you will receive monthly benefits and exclusive contents. If I get enough Patrons, it will help me to realise some of my dreams!!

When you realise that the ultimate happiness is being yourself and that nobody can be better than you at it, then the competitive ego disappears. Remains the deep motivation to do your best at being yourself, for you and for the world. This is what this project is about.

Continue reading Invitation to my virtual Shakuhachi Dojo!

Dark and Light in 2020

What a year!!

More than any year I have been struggling this year with the question of the usefulness of being an artist. The pandemic situation revived in me the urge to do something for others. What could I do as a shakuhachi player?

Insecurity

Insecurity is already part of an artistic life, whether you like it or not. So maybe, as an artist, I was better prepared to deal with the feeling of insecurity caused by the pandemic. This shows us how fragile – and strong- we are. Playing shakuhachi helps me to accept my vulnerability. At the same time, the deep breathing with long breaths quiets my mind and gives me strength. “A long and healthy breath to all” has become my daily prayer. Just blowing one note, RO, is enough to connect to the deep peace inside me. When I play ROBUKI online together with my meditation group, I feel my sense of groundedness increasing, I feel the energy flowing through my body and the negative emotions being chased away.

Connect

Connecting to people became suddenly challenging. Coping with the lockdowns and the constant changes of situation throughout the year, months after months, has been really difficult. I am grateful that some of my students followed me online and that I could continue teaching and interacting with them. I am grateful that I got to know new students from different countries. The closing of physical borders opened a digital world of Zoom lessons ; travel issues turned into Internet connection stability and digital sound quality problems ; but still we remain connected and this feels good.

As a teacher, my best reward is when I hear students connect deeply to the shakuhachi. It can be during a few notes or an entire piece and it has nothing to do with technical level. During these magical moments, it doesn’t matter that the sound travels through the microphone and speakers of the computer: it just goes directly from heart to heart.

2020 = SHARE

So what could I do? Nothing else but keeping on doing my work, as good as I can. Teach, compose, inspire, send good vibes and share shakuhachi music.
SHARE has been my main goal for 2020, the one I set at the beginning of the year in January, it has been my mantra, my good resolution. I am grateful I had one because it truly helped me through the year. Although it turned out differently from my intention in January, things happened that not had happened without the current situation.

Continue reading Dark and Light in 2020

African Memories

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 Music Deezer, 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.

Continue reading African Memories

SHAKUHACHI REPERTOIRE SPOTLIGHT #1 – Low Register

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.

I rarely teach folksongs and sankyoku (only if the student asks for it). So this selection will mainly consist of honkyoku and some modern music (among them, some of Fukuda Teruhisa’s compositions and my own compositions).

Let’s start with the beginning!

#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 Chō and 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.

Let’s have a look at these pieces:

Continue reading SHAKUHACHI REPERTOIRE SPOTLIGHT #1 – Low Register

Blog Shakuhachi COMMUNITY (English & Français)

Online Komuso

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.

STARTING on Wednesday, MAY 6!

Continue reading Blog Shakuhachi COMMUNITY (English & Français)

Winter Mode

This is my first post of 2020, so I am way too late to wish you a Happy New Year, even the lunar one! But I do wish you health and happiness for every day in your life.

I did want to write a “Happy New Year & Good Resolutions” post, but it didn’t work. The main reason for it, I think, is that I was in “winter mode”. Not only the actual season for the Northern Hemisphere where I live, but actually this part of a cycle when you gather and restore your energy, preparing for the rest of the year, when you are not in “production mode” but in “silent mode”. It is definitely a necessary period for creativity and growth. Even if you have the feeling that you are not making any progress and you are not getting anywhere, you actually do.
Why?

Continue reading Winter Mode

Kyotaku

Last Friday, I had the great opportunity to participate to a Kyotaku workshop for beginners, organised by the Dutch Kyotaku player Hans van Loon, who had invited his master Tilopa Burdach.

It was for me the chance to meet the Dutch-Belgium group of Kyotaku players, and of course, Tilo himself!

The Kyotaku is a large bore jinashi shakuhachi “old style” which tradition was revived by Nishimura Koku (1915-2002), who was Tilo’s master. The minimum length starts at 2.2 and goes up to about 3.2. I was very curious to try it and hear it played live. Continue reading Kyotaku