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.
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…
Whether I’m practicing for myself of for a performance, I always start my practice session with a warming-up. I have different routines and I always start with one of them. I think it’s very important to have a routine to start your practice, something you don’t need to think about, but also something you do regularly and gets you into the concentration needed for your practice. Like a sporter, you need to warm up your muscles and breathing with easy exercises. My students know how much I love long tones and playing long tones with them. Long tones offer a wide range of variations such as dynamics, attacks and sound colours ; you can focus as well on your muscles tensions, body posture and breathing ; you can listen to the silence between the tones and the relationship between tones and silence ; you can also play them to meditate. Like any meditation, it can be short or long. I sometimes spend an hour playing long tones!
When I’m preparing for a performance, I’m more inclined to focus on technical skills that when I’m practicing for myself or for a meditation concert. Here is my routine. Continue reading Warm-up Routines→
In January 2018, the new CD of Fukuda Teruhisa has been released. I was waiting for this CD to come out since I heard his concert in November 2015 in Genève (Switzerland) and was totally mesmerised by it. So, of course, this post is not an objective review, but just some personal impressions I’d like to share.
Fukuda Teruhisa is well known for his interpretations of contemporary music. He recorded several CD of it. As for the traditional repertoire, his discography features a solo CD of “Kinko-ryū pieces” and a Sankyoku CD “Music of the Edo period” (trio with koto and shamisen). But this is the first CD where he only plays Koten honkyoku, meaning very old traditional music. Continue reading CD “Japan: Musical Offering” – Fukuda Teruhisa→
I’ve been performing since I’m fifteen, and I’ve never learned how to do it. I didn’t even think there was something to learn about it. However, when you think back to how many people get nervous when they have to perform, from good anxiety to total panic that they have to calm down with medicines or even stronger stuff, you start to ask yourself whether there might be somehow something to learn about it. I can still remember moments of total panic during competitions and it didn’t feel good. Playing music shouldn’t lead to this amount of stress. At a lower level, I also experienced the frustration of practicing so hard for a lesson and then not being able to play the way I wanted when in presence of my teacher and the other students. So, is there something you can do about it?
In a few days the annual European Shakuhachi Summer School will begin gathering almost 60 shakuhachi aficionados (teachers and participants) together from all over Europe and with Maekawa Kogetsu as an representation of Myōan and Kinpū ryū. And it all happens in the small provincial town Vejle, Denmark – out in the fringes of Europe. Hurray for celebrating shakuhachi all over Europe! See you there! Kiku Day, Chair of the ESS.
I’m very honoured to be invited to this ESS Summer School where I will teach solo and group pieces from our Hijiri-kai school. The venue is a boarding school, which will enable us to blow and spend time together as a group. There will be a lot of different styles represented, traditional and modern music, solo and chamber music, pieces with koto, improvisation and original compositions. It is a great opportunity to listen to a lot of music and meet each other.
Although a big part of the traditional repertoire of shakuhachi consists in solo pieces (honkyoku), blowing together is very important in our school. Fukuda-sensei is tirelessly writing new pieces and arrangements for us when we gather in the Summer Schools organised in France by Daniel Lifermann for La Voie du Bambou. I’m very pleased to share some of his music and the spirit of it this summer in Denmark.
These pieces are meant to be performed by players of all levels, everyone playing according to his capacities. Generally, there isn’t a fixed rhythm except the rhythm of the breath (like in most of the honkyoku music), which allows some fuzziness, like a natural echo or reverberation. Playing together means listening to each other in order to tune in one multiple voice. It’s very good to confront your pitch control with the others’!
Here are the pieces: Continue reading ESS Summer School 2017→
It’s not always easy to find the right instrument, like to find the right partner for life. Sometimes you have to travel far away.
I started music with the recorder lessons of the primary school and I loved it (while most of my friends didn’t). But at that time, my fascination went to the piano, because of my mother’s LP’s I liked so much to listen to. Piano at home was no option so I ended up learning transverse flute at the local music school. When I was around 15, my godmother showed me that there existed other flutes in the world with bringing me back a flute from Nepal. Couldn’t do much with it but I found it nice with its decorations. Some years later, when I heard a musician playing a kind of transverse flute in Senegal, I went to meet him and bought one of his flute. My collection had started. The sound of this flute still evokes the memory of the land where I was born.
In the coming months, I’ll be performing in 5 different projects, which shows the diversity of possibilities of playing shakuhachi:
The Requiem of Karl Jenkins, May 4 in Middelburg (NL), Japanese tales, May 12 in Rotterdam and July 2 in Den Helder (NL), Les Petites Peurs, mixed media installation, May 20 in Rotterdam (NL), Les Cordes en Ballade, classical music festival, July 11 in Bourg-St-Andéol (FR) and The European Shakuhachi Society Summer School, July 27-30 in Vejle (DK).
The Requiem (2004) of Karl Jenkins is a very special piece to me. It is written for orchestra and choir (with a soprano solo part) and shakuhachi. In addition to the usual movements of a Requiem (Latin mass for the soul of the dead), Jenkins chose 5 Japanese haikus (poems) about the cycle of life and death. These poems are sung by the women of the choir, accompanied by the orchestra and a solo shakuhachi part. The music is written in Western notation, and can be played by a transverse flute instead, if there is no shakuhachi player. Of course, the effects and colours are then totally different. The Western notation allows the shakuhachi player to choose his/her own fingerings and lengths of flutes and go deeper in the music by making his/her own interpretation. This piece allows me to use my classical background as a flutist to perform Japanese shakuhachi in a classical music setting, uniting my two musical worlds.
I’ll be performing this piece on March 18 in Ede and on May 4 in Middelburg (The Netherlands). A nice opportunity for the audience to discover the shakuhachi “live”.