Category Archives: Shakuhachi Music

SHAKUHACHI REPERTOIRE SPOTLIGHT #2 – CHOSHI 調子

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.

(The International Shakuhachi Society www.komuso.com)

Here is a short selection of my favorite ones.

Continue reading SHAKUHACHI REPERTOIRE SPOTLIGHT #2 – CHOSHI 調子

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

My Jinashi project

Last summer, I bought a very nice Jinashi shakuhachi 2.2 made by the Spanish maker Jose Seizan Vargas because I was looking for a special flute to practice Koten Honkyoku. I was very curious to try to play on a Jinashi flute, explore its sounds and the difference with a Jiari shakuhachi. As I am not myself a shakuhachi maker, here is a link about what a Jinashi shakuhachi is, besides Jose’s website (even if you don’t speak Spanish, have a look at the pictures, it already explains a lot).

Even though I haven’t managed yet to give much time to this practice, I am very happy about the results. When I just want to blow, I grab this flute, and it feels just perfectly what I need at the moment. Pure happiness.

Continue reading My Jinashi project

Flute & Shakuhachi

From flute to shakuhachi

I played the Western flute for 40 years, and in 2016, I completely stopped and even sold my instruments (except the G-flute). My flute story was a complicated one, which ended up in peace thanks to the shakuhachi. My flute was the path that lead me to the shakuhachi and I am very grateful for it.

One of the reasons I totally stopped playing the Western flute is the shakuhachi tone quest. At a point, I was blocked in my tone development by the fact of playing the flute. It is a personal choice, some people can play them both. I guess it also depends on what type of sound you are looking for. I am personally not looking for a sound that looks like the Western flute, I am even not looking for a “nice” sound at all. I will definitively never play classical music on shakuhachi! I am looking for all the possibilities of sounds of the instrument and what I can do with each tone, without aesthetic criteria and judgements.
I am looking for freedom.

Another reason is that I had to let go of some habits and reflexes I had with the flute in order to build up another approach of the breath, the sound and the music for playing shakuhachi properly. At a moment, it became too confusing. I like to be fully engaged when I do something. No compromise with the shakuhachi!

But I still love the flute, this old companion, and I enjoy listening to it even more now that I don’t play it anymore (all the competitive and comparison thoughts I had in my head back from my time at the Conservatoire for exams, auditions, etc., are gone!!).
So I am very glad when, two years ago, my friend the flutist Catherine Balmer and I started to discuss the possibility of playing together as a flute & shakuhachi duo.

And here is the result:

 

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Striking Light, Striking Dark

“If light comes, I will strike it. If dark comes, I will strike it.”
(Kyotaku Denki)

Poetry set to music

Original compositions by Christopher Yohmei Blasdel, Shakuhachi, & Sasha Bogdanowitsch, Voice & World Instruments. 2015.

I bought this CD at the WSF 2018 in London last August and I was very curious to listen to it. “Original compositions by Christopher Yohmei Blasdel & Sasha Bogdanowitsch”and “Poetry from Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, John Logan and Sam Hamill” was enough to intrigue me. I love poetry and I have been working myself for a long time about connecting music and words, in shows or with composers.

The first time I met Christopher Yohmei Blasdel was at the International Shakuhachi Festival in Prague in 2010 and got from him my first Kinko-ryū Chikumeisha shakuhachi lessons. How much I struggled on Hifumi Hachigaeschi no shirabe at that time! But the more you struggle, the deeper you remember the music! He was very patient with me and I enjoyed a lot his teaching, his playing during the concerts, and his Aikido-based workshops. His bookThe Shakuhachi, A Manual of Learning” is a must to have in your shakuhachi books’ collection.
At the ISF Prague, I purchased his CD Visionary Tones and his book The Single Tone. Both are beautifully inspiring and I have a strong personal connection with the CD.

After a busy summer this year, one of the first things I did when I was back home was to listen to Christopher’s CD. I was immediately so captivated by its beauty and richness that I listened to it twice in a row, the first time listening “only” to the music, the second time while reading the texts I found on Christopher’s website (I am not an English native speaker).
Each piece is a little jewel.
Each piece takes you to its own world.
The connection between music and poetry is beautifully executed with high precision. Music and words enhance each other, reaching a new dimension.
It is so inspired and inspiring.

Below are some personal impressions about this very special CD. I hope this post will make you curious enough to listen to it (and guess what? You can also listen to it on Spotify!). Continue reading Striking Light, Striking Dark

Meditation or music? Or both?

There is a lot of discussions going on about what shakuhachi is or is not, should be or shouldn’t be: is it a meditation instrument? is it a music instrument? or both? should we or shouldn’t we pay attention to the musical result when we play it?
The first thing I would like to say about it is that we are all different people, so it looks normal to me that we have each a different approach of the shakuhachi, different goals, different needs, and that we like different things in it. I think that the shakuhachi is a great instrument to teach us to be non-judgemental. But I read and hear a lot of judgements here and there, about what shakuhachi is and is not, and that surprises me. I think we can express what we like in playing and listening to shakuhachi without considering that our way is the only way. In my teaching, I try to help my students to find their own way, not to imitate me or Fukuda Teruhisa. Our school and repertoire is wide enough to provide different aspects of the music for shakuhachi, but not all aspects. And the most important to me is that my students play in alignment with themselves, and take lessons from me only if they find what they like in our school.

So music or meditation?

Continue reading Meditation or music? Or both?