Tag Archives: Japanese bamboo flute

The Sound of Nature and Shakuhachi

A Shakuhachi Podcast

In July, my student Christof Zürn, creator of Music Thinking, interviewed me for a podcast about shakuhachi. You can listen to it here .

Earlier this year, we prepared the interview with having an improvisation session in nature, that we recorded.  Christof mixed some moments of it in the podcast and I published a short video on my YouTube Channel.
We had fun with the geese flowing by, pieces of trees falling on us… We also played Kyorei together. Watch it here:

Shakuhachi belongs to nature

A few days after the podcast was released, I found a very interesting paper about Japanese music, written by Akikazu Nakamura. I already had the deep conviction that honkyoku music takes another dimension when played outside. This paper confirms my experience and gives some very interesting insights about Japanese music, that are important to know in order to improve one’s understanding of playing Japanese music. Here is a short summary and analysis of Nakamura’s paper.

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New Music for Flute & Shakuhachi

What an honour to play music composed especially for you!

Duo Satsuzen
© Pierre-Alain Balmer

We (Duo Satsuzen) have been waiting for more than a year (because of cancelled concerts due to to the Covid-19 pandemic) to perform the two new compositions we received in 2021!!

Ellipse, by Elizabeth BROWN (commissioned by the Hijiri Shakuhachi Foundation for Duo Satsuzen) and Ginyo, by Atsuki SUMI (dedicated to Duo Satsuzen).

Two compositions using different lengths of flute (C-flute, G-flute, shakuhachi 1.8 en shakuhachi 2.4), opening the possibilities of subtle variations in tone colours and volume.

It was such a special experience to share this beautiful music “live” with the audience of the “Temple de la Servette” in Geneva (Switzerland) in April.

Watch them back here:

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Deep Breathing Meditation

What is your relationship with your breathing? Do you ignore it, train it, observe it?… Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your awareness about your breathing in any way?

Blowing the shakuhachi is a deep breathing training. Over the years, I notice that my breathing’s awareness and quality have improved, and as a result, the connection with my breathing has increased my inner peace, my ability to manage my emotions, and more generally, my feeling of happiness.

Since February 2022, I give live meditation sessions of the app Insight Timer. I share with the participants the deep breathing meditation training in relation to the musical tradition of shakuhachi, which combines the unique sounds of the flute with inspiring music.
Being connected with people from all over the world at the same time is really special.

These sessions are FREE, so don’t hesitate to follow me and attend my sessions!

You can also train by yourself anytime, listening to my audio meditations on the app. Keep reading to discover how.

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Let’s Celebrate Milestones!

When comes the end of the year, let’s take a moment to look back, reflect and celebrate accomplishments!

Shakuhachi Milestones

What milestones did you reach this year? What new pieces, techniques, did you learn? Can you be grateful to yourself for your efforts? (and your teacher’s?)
Even holding on to your practice is already an accomplishment. More, (more pieces, techniques, etc.) is not always necessary.
Or was it blowing RO? Gaining in awareness? Listening to yourself? Releasing excess tensions?
Is there anything related to shakuhachi, even small, that can you celebrate?

Other milestones

Think about your work, your personal life, your social life,…, what milestones can you celebrate?

Do Less

Doing less can also be an accomplishment: what things, thoughts, did you let go of that didn’t serve you anymore?
Did you make space for new things, or just made space for… more space in your life?

Five Milestones

Could you pick up (up to) five milestones and celebrate them? What were the five most important things for you this year?

Allow me to celebrate with you my top 5 shakuhachi milestones!

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Stress and Shakuhachi (Part 3) – Practices to reduce stress

I don’t know for you, but for me 2021 is being even more challenging than 2020. Or is it that, thanks to my meditation and shakuhachi practice, I become more and more aware of my own stress? And others’ stress as well?

In any case, I would like to give a follow up to the two posts about Stress and Shakuhachi that I wrote last year (Part 1 and Part 2).

In those posts, I wrote about the stress you can experience while playing shakuhachi (or any other music instrument) in front of others (teacher, public performance,…) and how to practice to reduce it.

In this post however, I’d like to address how the wisdom of shakuhachi can help you in your daily life to become aware of your own stress… and work on it.

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Shakuhachi Secrets

There is something mysterious in shakuhachi, mysterious and profound. Is it in the sound? Is it in the notation? Is it in the music?
I remember the lessons with Fukuda Teruhisa sensei, when we were avidly listening to his explanations with the hope of understanding the music and the notation a bit better. I am not talking about how to play the piece technically. I am talking about how to play it properly and uncover its secrets. It could sometimes seem unclear because it asked us to listen even more carefully to our sensei, to the music and to ourselves. Playing shakuhachi is a quest towards one’s self. It is much more than making sounds with a flute.

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REFLECTION

Reflection CD Cover

My new CD “Reflection” is live !! This project started in the last trimester of 2019 with the composition of the first meditation pieces and it followed me into the Covid-19 period. Just when the pandemic started, I was about to perform some of my new pieces during a meditation concert that got cancelled. The first one of a long row… But these compositions and this recording project supported me day-in day-out, until I felt that it was time to release them into the digital world.

So here it is and you can listen to it through this link on your favourite digital platform.
Or listen and buy your favorite tracks on Bandcamp.

The beautiful cover photo was taken by my husband Wim Scheenen. Please have a look at his inspiring website.

A short review by Elizabeth Brown (December 2021)

These days, I often find myself turning to Hélène Seiyu’s new CD, Reflection. It’s beautiful to listen to in order, as a whole–or, you can choose a single piece and let it repeat endlessly, as meditation. 

Seven of Hélène’s compositions are anchored by two traditional pieces, Neri Sashi and Higo Sashi, all played in a resonant setting on large instruments. Her own compositions sound both freely improvisatory and firmly rooted in the tradition; only a shakuhachi player could write these pieces. I love Hélène’s playing; every sound and every pause come from deep in the heart. We all need this kind of music now.

Elizabeth Brown, composer/performer.

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Shakuhachi Wisdom

Inner & Outer Journey

In the history of shakuhachi, there is a strong shift: when the shakuhachi went from being a spiritual instrument to becoming a music instrument. It was at the end of the XIXe century, during the Meiji era. Actually it was a dreadful period for Zen Buddhism, thus shakuhachi. The Komuso monks were not allowed anymore and had to give lessons and concerts to survive. The shakuhachi took its part in chamber music with koto and shamisen to play “sankyoku“.
Apparently the zen tradition was still allowed in a couple of temples (to be practiced secretly?) and after some time, was allowed more officially again. I am not an historian so forgive my approximations in this story.

What inspires me is how the shakuhachi survived this transition: opening to the outside world. Like it followed an underground stream to reappear further, when its time had come again. In the meantime, the Tozan school of modern shakuhachi was born and Japanese music was more and more influenced by the Western culture.

And then, in the 1960’s, shakuhachi was almost dead again. Shakuhachi master Yokoyama Katsuya realised that the shakuhachi had to be brought further to the outside world, meaning outside of Japan. Shakuhachi reached the USA, Australia, and later Europa and the rest of the world, other Asian countries included. The interest for traditional shakuhachi in Japan is still low (please correct me if I’m wrong here), but still exists. And shakuhachi has reached different of styles of music: jazz, pop music , movies, video games, etc.

Yet, the spiritual tradition is still alive and has been developing more and more outside of Japan as well. This is fascinating. It makes me wonder whether you need a balance between the inner and outer world to embrace shakuhachi fully. If so, how do you find this balance?

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How to play “Kan”?!?!?

Why is the upper register Kan so difficult for many of us?

When I started learning shakuhachi, I was already a professional flutist, and still, as a beginner shakuhachi student, I found that the Kan register was a bit challenging, especially the two higher notes (Hi and I). There was something there that took me a bit more time to feel and master. Although the lips technique is quite similar to the flute’s technique, I needed to find some adjustments. What was going on?

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