To celebrate the third anniversary of my blog, I am sharing some tips to practice shakuhachi honkyoku. Happy blowing!
It was for me the chance to meet the Dutch-Belgium group of Kyotaku players, and of course, Tilo himself!
The Kyotaku is a large bore jinashi shakuhachi “old style” which tradition was revived by Nishimura Koku (1915-2002), who was Tilo’s master. The minimum length starts at 2.2 and goes up to about 3.2. I was very curious to try it and hear it played live. Continue reading Kyotaku
The International Shakuhachi Festival Prague 2109 (ISFP19) took place one month ago and it was a fantastic event. I had the great honour to be invited by Marek Kimei Matvija to perform and teach and I prepared for this event for months. I put a lot of efforts in my preparations: not only practicing, but also writing teaching materials and composing new pieces. And the festival turned out to be beyond expectations. Continue reading Back from the ISFP 19!
In a bit less than a month, the International Shakuhachi Festival Prague 2019 (ISFP 19) will start. This 5-day festival (September 12-16) is one of the few big shakuhachi events in Europe (another one being the European Shakuhachi Society Summer School). It will be held in various beautiful venues in the historical city of Prague (Czech Republic) and the program is awesome! Check it out here.
For the first time, I will be teaching and performing there and I am quite excited about it! I have been preparing my workshops for months and here is a short presentation about what I will be teaching. I am preparing teaching material and exercise booklets as well, which will be available during the festival.
In another post, I will present the pieces I will be performing.
If you are around, don’t hesitate to join! Continue reading ISFP 19 – Workshops “Warm-up Routines” and “Intonation”
Last summer, I bought a very nice Jinashi shakuhachi 2.2 made by the Spanish maker Jose Seizan Vargas because I was looking for a special flute to practice Koten Honkyoku. I was very curious to try to play on a Jinashi flute, explore its sounds and the difference with a Jiari shakuhachi. As I am not myself a shakuhachi maker, here is a link about what a Jinashi shakuhachi is, besides Jose’s website (even if you don’t speak Spanish, have a look at the pictures, it already explains a lot).
Even though I haven’t managed yet to give much time to this practice, I am very happy about the results. When I just want to blow, I grab this flute, and it feels just perfectly what I need at the moment. Pure happiness.
When you learn shakuhachi, there are some difficulties that almost everyone is confronted to. And there are also some points that deserve a special attention (the ones your teacher keeps on repeating over and over again).
Here is a list of the subjects and issues I address the most frequently during my lessons: Continue reading My “Top 7” Tips for playing shakuhachi
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:
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.
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?