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!
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.
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!
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?
The idea to combine chakra meditation and shakuhachi occurred to me already a couple of years ago. The shakuhachi is such a special instrument, whether it gives energy, peace, spiritual awakening or helps you fall asleep. When I started to be interested in this topic, I found some music composed for shakuhachi related to chakras, but this was not what I was looking for, so I kept on searching further. I eventually created my own chakra meditation practice with shakuhachi in a very simple way. It is not related to special frequencies like some other musical chakra meditations, but aims to help you open your entire body, heart and soul when you play shakuhachi. I introduced this practice during the last Fukiawase session, and my students seemed interested in it. So this encourages me to share this practice in this post.
This term is used by Fukuda Teruhisa to invite us to play some honkyoku with flutes of different lengths (1.8, 2.4, 2.7) using transposed parts in order to play each piece in unison. He calls it “harmonisation of the breaths”. He wrote special versions of Honte Choshi and Yamato Choshi for this practice, with the idea of mixing the specific colours of each flute to enrich the global result.
I borrowed this term to give it as name for special sessions I have been organising from time to time with my students to play shakuhachi together. These are meetings where we meditate and play together. They are no lessons or rehearsals, even though we sometimes play from notation (Fukiawase or standard versions of honkyoku). It is a moment to blow together and inspire each other, to be in the “here and now”, listen, feel and experiment. It is different each time. Everyone can give a suggestion and feel free to participate actively or silently. Because silence is also part of music. Continue reading Fukiawase→