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.
It’s not always easy to find the right instrument, like to find the right partner for life. Sometimes you have to travel far away.
I started music with the recorder lessons of the primary school and I loved it (while most of my friends didn’t). But at that time, my fascination went to the piano, because of my mother’s LP’s I liked so much to listen to. Piano at home was no option so I ended up learning transverse flute at the local music school. When I was around 15, my godmother showed me that there existed other flutes in the world with bringing me back a flute from Nepal. Couldn’t do much with it but I found it nice with its decorations. Some years later, when I heard a musician playing a kind of transverse flute in Senegal, I went to meet him and bought one of his flute. My collection had started. The sound of this flute still evokes the memory of the land where I was born.
In the coming months, I’ll be performing in 5 different projects, which shows the diversity of possibilities of playing shakuhachi:
The Requiem of Karl Jenkins, May 4 in Middelburg (NL), Japanese tales, May 12 in Rotterdam and July 2 in Den Helder (NL), Les Petites Peurs, mixed media installation, May 20 in Rotterdam (NL), Les Cordes en Ballade, classical music festival, July 11 in Bourg-St-Andéol (FR) and The European Shakuhachi Society Summer School, July 27-30 in Vejle (DK).
The Requiem (2004) of Karl Jenkins is a very special piece to me. It is written for orchestra and choir (with a soprano solo part) and shakuhachi. In addition to the usual movements of a Requiem (Latin mass for the soul of the dead), Jenkins chose 5 Japanese haikus (poems) about the cycle of life and death. These poems are sung by the women of the choir, accompanied by the orchestra and a solo shakuhachi part. The music is written in Western notation, and can be played by a transverse flute instead, if there is no shakuhachi player. Of course, the effects and colours are then totally different. The Western notation allows the shakuhachi player to choose his/her own fingerings and lengths of flutes and go deeper in the music by making his/her own interpretation. This piece allows me to use my classical background as a flutist to perform Japanese shakuhachi in a classical music setting, uniting my two musical worlds.
I’ll be performing this piece on March 18 in Ede and on May 4 in Middelburg (The Netherlands). A nice opportunity for the audience to discover the shakuhachi “live”.