Tag Archives: Japanese traditional music

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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Tutorial Videos

When I opened my Virtual Shakuhachi Dojo on Patreon last February (https://www.patreon.com/shakudojo), I started to film tutorial videos for the patrons of the KAN Tier. Once a month, I address a specific topic or technique. So far I have published videos about abdominal breathing, embouchure for (absolute) beginners, the basic scale otsu, how to play in kan, how to attack a sound, how to warm up, meditation in nature. When you subscribe, you also get access to a PDF-file with basic exercises for practicing long tones, fingers, octaves and intervals. In the coming months, I’ll be filming how to practice these exercises and release the videos in my Dojo.

Why do you have to pay to get access to this content?

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Shakuhachi by Heart

The two last months I have been quite busy recording videos in the nature (read previous blog post about it here). It started a bit out of frustration: concert halls desperately closed for so long, impossibility to make plans to work in the short run, living on the hope that it would get better after the summer when most people got vaccinated to start to perform again,… But hope is not enough and I couldn’t just stay put and wait for the situation to improve. The current pandemic has given me the opportunity to challenge myself to find other ways to create and still go on, like creating a virtual Dojo on Patreon (visit it here).

Outside my confort zone

Some artists in bigger structures and/or better network manage to organise live streams, I don’t. Luckily I love birds and birdsongs. Playing and recording in nature turned out to be a very nice activity yet challenging. It means playing in the cold, in the dark, in the rain, in the mud, in the wind, without the supportive acoustic of a concert hall or any amplification… It means going out of my comfort zone and letting go of my blockages. It means playing by heart.
But it also means being surrounded by birdsongs, enjoying space, deep inner peace, being present to everything happening. This is so rewarding!

In this post, I’ll describe how I pushed my limits and I’ll give some tips to play by heart.

Playing by heart is a path to meditation.

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SEIYU and the YUU

It has been already one year. One year of pandemic, lockdown, restrictions,… To continue working, I set up online lessons, online meditations, online workshops, a virtual dojo… I even composed a ZOOM-Duet!

It has been already one year and it is also Spring time again, like last year, when everything closed down. From last year I remember the urge of going outside after months of rain and suddenly the emptiness of the streets. I remember contacting people to find concerts and suddenly all events cancelled. I remember wanting to make more (Dutch) friends and suddenly having to avoid people on the streets. I remember going in nature and feeling suspected when I sneezed because of allergies…

When this second year of pandemic started, it was Spring again and Spring shows you how strongly life goes on. Birds are singing, trees begin to bud, timid flowers come out of the ground, you cannot miss it. As I am lucky enough to live close to nature, I have started a new project: playing shakuhachi outdoors and filming it. Watch it here.

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Invitation to my virtual Shakuhachi Dojo!

In the Netherlands we entered 2021 in full lockdown. No fireworks, no party. With the hope that the world situation will improve dramatically in 2021 with vaccination, I started to dream more and more of a virtual space to develop my activities and connect with more people. This dream has become a virtual shakuhachi dojo on Patreon! Discover it here.

What it is exactly ?

It is a space where I will share every month the different aspects of my work with shakuhachi: recordings, meditations, tutorial videos and creations. Choose your abonnement and you will receive monthly benefits and exclusive contents. If I get enough Patrons, it will help me to realise some of my dreams!!

When you realise that the ultimate happiness is being yourself and that nobody can be better than you at it, then the competitive ego disappears. Remains the deep motivation to do your best at being yourself, for you and for the world. This is what this project is about.

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5 Steps for A Meaningful Shakuhachi Practice

The first meditation lesson I listened to this year was by Charles Freligh about “10 Principles for Daily Living”. It resonated deeply with my shakuhachi practice, especially when he came to talk about Authenticity.

Authenticity is a combination of vulnerability and courage to show who we really are.

The answer to his question “when do you feel most authentic?” was immediate: “when I play shakuhachi“.
At the end of his lesson, I realised that when I practice shakuhachi, I cover all the 10 themes he talked about.

I found it so interesting that I translated his lesson into a “5-steps meaningful (daily) shakuhachi practice”.

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Online Presentation on December 13th

Honkyoku for beginners

A bit more than a month ago, I released a booklet for beginners made of simplified versions of four short honkyoku. To celebrate the 4th anniversary of this blog on December 13th, I will be giving a ZOOM presentation about one of them, Yamato Choshi. My wish is to explain how to go from the simplified to the full version of this piece. I will be introducing along the Hijiri-Kai style. The presentation will be followed by a Q&A. To register, contact me or scroll down.

A few weeks after I released this booklet, I found this quote, from one of the greatest shakuhachi masters, Yokoyama Katsuya:

“It is important to grasp the main themes and melodies of a piece without getting lost or caught up in the pursuit of various techniques and minor themes.”

“Grasping the main themes and melodies” is exactly what my booklet for beginners is about. I think that it is not always easy to identify them when you are a beginner. The Japanese musical notation is very often seen as challenging. Actually, what is challenging is to notate a honkyoku!
As Yokoyama Sensei writes:

“Honkyoku are alive. It is very difficult to capture them on paper. Honkyoku sheet music is like a snapshot of but one aspect of the piece. It is helpful in giving us an idea of what the song is about, but it cannot come close to describing the totality.”

But what is a honkyoku at the first place? Here is a definition by Yokoyama Sensei:

Continue reading Online Presentation on December 13th