We don’t really like to think about death. Although death is part of life, it is quite taboo in our society and a difficult topic to address. Like it would bring bad luck.
Two and half weeks ago, I gave a shakuhachi presentation in a zen center in Rotterdam (The Netherlands). I gave explanations about the history of the instrument, played a couple of honkyoku, and guided the participants to make their first sounds on the shakuhachi. We also had a very nice talk about the relationships between shakuhachi and zen meditation. It was a very rich experience for all of us. At a moment, while I was playing, one participant became very emotional. Afterwards, the organiser of the workshop, who is one of my students, told me that when I was playing, he was thinking that shakuhachi would be very appropriate to be played during funerals. “Actually” I answered, “I played a week ago during the funeral of my cousin. I am quite used to play at family funerals. Before, I used to play the flute, but now, playing the shakuhachi adds a spiritual dimension I really appreciate and need myself.”
I also told him about the time I was asked to play for a nature funeral of a total stranger.
During my demonstration at the zen center, the piece the participant became emotional with was Azuma Jishi (Azuma no kyoku). Was supposed to be. I did start playing it, but in the middle of it, as I was playing by heart, I mixed it up with Kumoi Jishi, which was the piece I played for my cousin’s funeral, and couldn’t come back to Azuma Jishi anymore, so I ended up playing Kumoi Jishi.
My student’s comment about thinking of a funeral while I was playing and the participant’s reaction during this piece make me think that there was still a lot of my sadness from the death of my cousin in my shakuhachi play on this day. Continue reading Playing shakuhachi at funerals
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?
Since I started to teach shakuhachi in the Netherlands in 2013, it was a dream for me to invite my master Fukuda Teruhisa and his wife Kineya Shiho (shamisen) to come to Holland. When I got my Jun Shihan diploma in January 2013 with the name Seiyu (wisdom/holy kindness), I didn’t consider it as an achievement but as a start. The beginning of a new adventure in a new land, new language, new rules, new habits, and a new personal life.
Since then, it has been a lot of work here in Holland to build up friendships, a professional network and to find my space in my new country in the Japanese cultural world, as a non-Dutch non-Japanese person. I have got some help and I am very thankful for the people who have been trusting and helping me since the beginning. My efforts, practice and professional performances were rewarded by Fukuda sensei giving me a Shihan diploma in November 2015, which has encouraged me to develop my work even more. Sometimes when I feel down, tired or discouraged by the difficulties, I think of what I have received so far and I see it as a precious gift, which gives me energy to go on.
Continue reading Fukuda Teruhisa in Holland
It has been a while I didn’t go to play for the people with dementia. Before the summer, A., who always accompanies me for the visits, was very ill and the visits were cancelled. In July and August, I was busy abroad. It felt great today to be back to the essential of playing music for me: be part of somebody’s normal daily life, outside of concert halls and music festivals.
I can’t explain how priceless this experience is for me. It is not only a musical experience, but also a spiritual one. It feels like applying meditation, particularly compassion and Tonglen practice, to the patients. Their brains don’t function properly anymore and they are not able to meditate, but while listening to the shakuhachi, I hope they find some peace and quietness of the mind. Continue reading Blue eyes – October 2018
This summer, Fukuda Teruhisa and his wife Kineya Shiho came to France for a full week of summer school organised by Daniel Seisoku Lifermann and La Voie du Bambou. And following up this week, they came to Rotterdam (The Netherlands), where I teach! I couldn’t be more happy.
I have been following Fukuda Teruhisa’s teaching for more than 12 years now, during 6 intensive weeks in the summer (2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2018), various weekends and masterclasses in between in Paris, and a full week of individual lessons in Tokyo in 2017, and it seems to be no end of what I can learn from him. Each summerschool, when we start with Honte Choshi or Tamuke again, I keep on learning new things, it is amazing. Like it is amazing that he is keeping on making new versions of the scores he already gave us, along with new music he arranged or composed, guiding us deeper and deeper in the details and giving us at the same time more and more knowledge, capacity and freedom to make our own choices. He is a true perfectionist and a highly inspiring teacher and performer. Continue reading Fukuda Teruhisa’s teaching
The World Shakuhachi Festival (WSF) in London was a great place to meet and listen to a lot of different shakuhachi players. On this aspect, it was highly inspiring. Nothing can replace live contact and live sound. Our part-time job at the festival allowed us (Daniel Seisoku Lifermann and me) to devote some time to attend several workshops and lectures, and we took some time in-between to talk to people. I was really happy to see old friends again, meet in real some Facebook friends and make some new friends, even though it was so busy and everything went so fast that it was difficult to go beyond fast contacts. It was really difficult for each teacher to present himself, his style, music and notation in one hour and ten minutes to a bench of students with various backgrounds, knowledge and level. Most of them started with: “I don’t have much time but…”, and somehow, they managed to give an idea of what they wanted to pass on.
As I said before, I couldn’t attend all the workshops and concerts I would have loved to go to. The people I am going to talk about in this post are those I could meet and feel immediately connected to, impressed or inspired by. It is very personal and reflecting my own interests at the moment. They were a lot of great players who were impressive to listen to, and people I just haven’t got the chance to meet this time. So don’t expect an exhaustive list of shakuhachi performers and/or composers here, but just those I particularly hope to stay in contact with, continue to follow their work and inspiration, and hopefully meet again. Continue reading Summer 2018 – WSF London (2)
This year, the World Shakuhachi Festival (WSF 2018) will be held in London on 1-4 August, organised by the European Shakuhachi Society (ESS). It’s the first time it will take place in Europa, after Japan, the USA and Australia. I’m very excited to go and take part of this big event. This is my first time at a WSF. There will be shakuhachi players and makers from all around the world, from amateurs and students to top soloists. A lot of different styles will be represented: traditional, folk music (Min’yō), jazz, contemporary, improvisation, and there will be other Japanese instruments (koto, shamisen) as well as Western instruments. Inspiring! We’ll be blowing a lot of sounds 4 days long, during workshops and concerts. A bit overwhelming when you think of it. And quite a challenge for an instrument originally dedicated to meditation, breathing and silence…
Daniel Seisoku Lifermann and myself will be representing the Hijiri School, as our master Fukuda Teruhisa cannot attend the event. It’s the first time that our small school will be officially represented at the WSF, next to the bigger and more famous schools as Kinko-ryū, Kokusai Shakuhachi Kenshukan (KSK) and Tozan-ryū. I’m quite curious to see how it will be perceived. We’ll do our best! Continue reading World Shakuhachi Festival 2018 London
I wish you a healthy, peaceful, musical and happy New Year!
A new year has started, with new challenges and new resolutions. Last year, my good resolutions were to follow 12 zen rules and apply them to shakuhachi. I kept this in mind throughout the year, and started gradually a more consistent practice of meditation. This leads me to my good resolution of this year: be a better person. I believe that everyone can contribute to make this world better starting with oneself, and I’m trying to improve my share. I have been learning a lot since I’m meditating on a daily basis and it has been deepening my shakuhachi practice. Although I’m still a beginner, I’d like to share with you how meditation helps me to become a better shakuhachi player.
Continue reading Shakuhachi & Meditation
It has been some time since my last visit to the old people with dementia, which was on the 17th of October. I didn’t think it would take me so long to write a post about this particular day. In the morning, I had just posted my previous post about Practicing Kokū and was planning to write this one quite rapidly afterwards. But life had other plans. Continue reading Beyond Borders
Kokū is considered one of the oldest compositions for shakuhachi, one of the three fundamental pieces together with Kyorei and Mukaiji.
Koku means “Empty Space,” or “Empty Sky,” (“Ko,” “empty”, and “Ku” “space”, or “sky”.)
There are many legends about this piece, and many different versions. Some versions are based on the story of the “Bell Ringing in an Empty Sky”. It refers to the death of the monk Fuke and his disappearance from his coffin. Only remains the sound of his bell coming from the empty sky. Other legends say that this piece has been composed in the 12th century by the monk Kyochiku, who heard this melody in a mystical dream. With the mist blocking the moon, it looked like the sound of the flute was coming from an empty sky.
Koku has a flavor of infinite mist and echoes. It is said that playing this piece helps one explore the boundaries of “mu” or nothingness, transcending reifications, the artificial cognitive boxes into which we place objects, situations and emotions.
Source: The International Shakuhachi Society
Continue reading Practicing Kokū 虚空