From flute to shakuhachi
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.
And here is the result:
Continue reading Flute & Shakuhachi
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
Happy, Healthy and Harmonious 2019 to all!
The end of the year / beginning of the new year is a good moment to take some time for your personal review. What did you achieve this year? What are you aiming at for the coming year?
You can do it for your personal life (there are videos on YouTube about this topic), but also, if you are a shakuhachi player, you can do it as well for your shakuhachi journey. What did you learn last year? What technics, music pieces, insights, experiences, skills, personal growth? Can you remember how you were playing one year ago? What did shakuhachi bring to your life in 2018? And what are your goals for 2019?
Sometimes, we are so focussed about what we cannot do (yet) that we forget to look at what we have achieved (so far). So take a look back, and don’t hesitate to be proud of yourself! Be compassionate if you didn’t achieve as much as you wanted. Do you journal and/or record your practice and experiences? It’s a good way to keep track of your journey.
In the shakuhachi learning process, the journey is the goal. So continuing your shakuhachi journey in 2019 is already a goal! Which path would you like to follow or explore this year?
Defining your goal will help you to actually go in the direction you want and not become overwhelmed by all kinds of other things that will definitively come in your way in the coming months, with as consequences ending up the year with the feeling that you didn’t quite do what your good resolutions were. But keep an open heart and mind, new things coming along your road can open new areas of investigations!
So better not to plan too many things at the beginning of the year, in order to keep some space for the unexpected. And keep on regularly reflecting on your resolutions, checking your inner compass, and making some adjustments if necessary . This way is my good resolution for 2019!
Don’t hesitate to share your experience in the comments below.
Continue reading Review & Goals
“If light comes, I will strike it. If dark comes, I will strike it.”
Poetry set to music
Original compositions by Christopher Yohmei Blasdel, Shakuhachi, & Sasha Bogdanowitsch, Voice & World Instruments. 2015.
I bought this CD at the WSF 2018 in London last August and I was very curious to listen to it. “Original compositions by Christopher Yohmei Blasdel & Sasha Bogdanowitsch”, and “Poetry from Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, John Logan and Sam Hamill” was enough to intrigue me. I love poetry and I have been working myself for a long time about connecting music and words, in shows or with composers.
The first time I met Christopher Yohmei Blasdel was at the International Shakuhachi Festival in Prague in 2010 and got from him my first Kinko-ryū Chikumeisha shakuhachi lessons. How much I struggled on Hifumi Hachigaeschi no shirabe at that time! But the more you struggle, the deeper you remember the music! He was very patient with me and I enjoyed a lot his teaching, his playing during the concerts, and his Aikido-based workshops. His book “The Shakuhachi, A Manual of Learning” is a must to have in your shakuhachi books’ collection.
At the ISF Prague, I purchased his CD Visionary Tones and his book The Single Tone. Both are beautifully inspiring and I have a strong personal connection with the CD.
After a busy summer this year, one of the first things I did when I was back home was to listen to Christopher’s CD. I was immediately so captivated by its beauty and richness that I listened to it twice in a row, the first time listening “only” to the music, the second time while reading the texts I found on Christopher’s website (I am not an English native speaker).
Each piece is a little jewel.
Each piece takes you to its own world.
The connection between music and poetry is beautifully executed with high precision. Music and words enhance each other, reaching a new dimension.
It is so inspired and inspiring.
Below are some personal impressions about this very special CD. I hope this post will make you curious enough to listen to it (and guess what? You can also listen to it on Spotify!). Continue reading Striking Light, Striking Dark
Recently, my Italian colleague and friend Fiore Seichiku De Mattia sent me a few links about his current project “Floating Souls” (Anime Fluttuanti), a Music Research Laboratory in Psychiatric Community, Fondazione Emilia Bosis (Bergamo). When music can be a wonderful tool for non-verbal communication and to find ways to connect to people whenever words are barriers, the shakuhachi proves to be a very special music instrument to go even deeper in this connection. Continue reading Floating souls
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
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)
Back home after an intensive summer of shakuhachi performing, learning and teaching, I’m now catching up on this blog. It is for me a way to reflect and go through all the music and inspiration I received during the different events. I will relate them in different posts, starting today with the World Shakuhachi Festival in London, August 1-4 (which started actually on July 31 with the Opening concert). Continue reading Summer 2018 – WSF London (1)
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