The Covid-19 pandemic has initiated new activities in my life as a professional shakuhachi player, which is to perform online. I had some resistance at the beginning of the pandemic and it took me time to surrender to the situation… and start performing online.
And now, I’m really liking it. It is very different from physical performances of course and I do miss the direct interaction with the audience, but it feels special to be connected at the same time to people sitting in different places in the world. And there is sometimes even a more personal interaction with the audience through the chat than during a real concert.
This keeps me going. I’m not waiting anymore for the “old situation” to come back, I don’t believe it ever will. So I’m building up with what is possible for me here and now.
So I’m very happy to announce my next online performances!
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.
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.
An original composition for shakuhachi and string quartet
How do you compose new music for a traditional instrument like shakuhachi? Do you take your inspiration from the traditional repertoire? Do you think of a Western flute and adapt your composition to be played by a shakuhachi? Do you need to play the instrument yourself or do you collaborate with a specialist of the instrument?
Zac Zinger is an outstanding composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, jazz saxophonist and shakuhachi player. He plays shakuhachi with a deep respect to the instrument, a good knowledge of its traditional and folk repertoire, and an amazing virtuosity. His compositions and arrangements are brilliant. He recently premiered “Haiku in Variation“, an original composition for shakuhachi and string quartet, for which he had won the Fumi Onoyama Grant from the “Salon De Virtuosi“.
Fortunately, the concert (featuring The Resonance Collective at Merkin Hall at New York City as part of the Salon De Virtuosi Awards Gala on October 14th, 2020) was videotaped and shared on YouTube.
Listen beyond the “WOW!” first impression
When I first listened to it, I was impressed by the virtuosity. Virtuosity on the shakuhachi and also virtuosity of the composition. My attention was especially caught by the Variation aspect, the variations of styles: from Traditional Japanese at the beginning, we go through different “sceneries” where Zac shows his vast musical knowledge: ballad, cartoon, romantic film music, classical flute with cadenza, to mention a few, until the short Japanese style coda like a short memory of the beginning. I called it “Passacaglia of styles”. Just to put names on influences, because throughout the piece, Zac’s music is just his and inimitable style. Virtuosity is so natural for him that it reaches the harmonic goal: playing chords with a melodic instrument. Don’t get me wrong, such virtuosity means thousands of hours of practicing.
But where was the Haiku?
The YouTube video’s description mentions:
The piece begins with a musical haiku of 5, 7, and 5 notes, and what follows is a series of variations on those motifs.
I listened again and was intrigued enough to contact Zac to ask him whether he would like to send me a few words about his music. Here below is his answer.
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.
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. Continue reading Back from the ISFP 19!→
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.