When you start practicing honkyoku (traditional zen pieces), you will discover soon enough that none of them are easy. But some of them are short. These are called “Chōshi” or “Chō”. These short pieces are meant to warm up and tune in with yourself, the room and the audience if there is any. I like to call them “Meditation preludes“.
In the tradition of the Meian school of shakuhachi, the performer first warms up the bamboo and settles the mind for spiritual practice through the playing of a short introductory prelude piece. Expressing the essential spirit of Koten honkyoku, Chōshi (literally, small melody) serves to establish the pitch and to center the musician. This piece is characterised by a pure focus on breath.
While having to keep physical distanciation for who knows how long, meeting online via Zoom or Skype has become a good alternative to connect to each other.
Earlier this year, the “RO-BUKI Wave Across The World” gave me the idea to create a Shakuhachi Online Community to blow and meditate together once a week. During the sessions, the focus goes inwards, to connect to your body, to your inner peace through your breathing, and to blow with full awareness what your heart tells you (solidarity with the world’s sufferings, healing, compassion, love, emptiness, silence,…), uniting your sounds and efforts with those of the other participants.
The experience of the last months – before the summer break – worked beyond expectations (I didn’t have any actually). It brought a new dimension in my shakuhachi path. Meditating together is not teaching, it is sharing. I deeply enjoyed the connection to fellow shakuhachi players from different countries. Level doesn’t matter. Some participants are my students, some are not. How good this feels.
Once a month, we had a Q&A session which brought very interesting reflexions and interactions in the group.
So it’s time to resume the weekly meetings, starting on September 7. Grab your favorite shakuhachi and let’s RO together!
My first debut CD (or single) is released!! It features 3 compositions for solo shakuhachi in which I explore my African roots as well as the relationships between Japanese and African spiritualities. It is now available online on all digital platforms like Spotify, iTunes, Amazon MusicDeezer, etc. In the coming months, the music notations will be available as well.
It was a huge work, the musical result of which being only the tip of the iceberg. I was dreaming of recording a CD already for years. Honkyoku? Modern music? Birds? At a point, it became obvious that my first recording should be my own compositions. Who I am. Where I come from. And what I can do with a shakuhachi.
You might have noticed that, since the third anniversary of my blog, I added a “support” button on my home page and at the end of each post. A few people have started to donate and I am very grateful to them. The decision of adding a “Support” or “Donation” button was not an easy one . When I started this blog, I had no idea whether I would stop after 3 posts nor how it would be received. And here we are, more than 3 years later, and I am very proud to say that my blog is being read every single day somewhere in the world (in more than 100 different countries) almost since the beginning!! This is the greatest support I could ever have dreamed of and this is way beyond my expectations. However, to reach this state and to be able to continue to develop the blog, I upgraded the free version to a paid one, as well as for my Soundcloud account, on which I uploaded dozens of recordings in order to help my students to study the repertoire and also to share our Hijiri-Kai music on this website. Upgrades cost money, and the writing of the posts plus the recording and editing of the music, cost time and energy. Time and energy that I am more than happy to spend! But as a professional full-time freelance musician, I also need to earn my living.
The alternative to offering the possibility a voluntary donation would be adding ads. It is not what I want for this blog and I will keep it “ads free” as long as possible. The donation fits better to my shakuhachi philosophy: I feel connected to the Komuso (begging monks) tradition through this online version!
When you subscribe to my blog, it is actually called a Membership. As I like this idea a lot, I have been thinking about it for a while – especially since the global lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In these particular and difficult times of social distancing, I feel even more how we all are connected, and how important it is to keep blowing together and stay in touch. So I have come up with a few ideas to make possible that a donation through my blog becomes a real Membership. After the amazing experience of the Robuki wave across the planet, I would like to use this opportunity to set up an English and a French community group!!
As it is difficult to make long term plans at the moment, I’d like to start with a trial period of 2 months (May-June 2020) and see how it goes.
When most of us on the planet are more or less locked down at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, when lots of stressful information are endless released all around the world, I was wondering “what can I do, as a shakuhachi player?” And then I got this message from Kiku Day:
“We are a group of shakuhachi players who did a little brain storm andwe came up with the idea of a ROBUKI WAVE. We suggest to make a ROBUKI WAVE across our planet as a gesture of solidarity, contemplation and healing of the situation with Covid-19 we are in at present! Join us playing ROBUKI at 12 noon your own time for as long or short as you want. We start tomorrow Monday 23rd March 2020! We will at least continue for a week and see if we continue further. Imagine as the Earth rotate there will be people playing robuki at 12 noon across the whole planet. […Facebook event details…] We will try to make a video with ROBUKIi across the whole planet afterwards.”
I immediately loved the idea of blowing RO together to connect and join our efforts and thoughts for the planet. I passed on the message to my students and friends in the Netherlands & Belgium and some of them reacted with a strong enthusiasm. This made me think that it would be nice to meet up online to blow together. I had never used ZOOM before, so it was a good opportunity to learn quickly how to use it and set up a daily Robuki-meeting!
Last year, I presented the fantastic work of my colleague and friend Fiore Seichiku De Mattia: “Floatings Souls” (Anime Fluttuanti), a project conducted as part of the Music Research Laboratory in Psychiatric Community, Fondazione Emilia Bosis (Bergamo). Since that time, Fiore made and uploaded 3 new videos about this project, chosen as the most representative ones. In these videos, he plays original shakuhachi solo compositions of Fukuda Teruhisa: Kanjinhijiri, Roro no Shirabe and Hijiri.
The spiritual inspiration of Fukuda sensei’s compositions, the “floating sounds” of the shakuhachi and Fiore’s profound reflection about the mystery of the other guide us to find the connection to these “floating souls”.
It is moving and beautiful. Continue reading Floating Souls (2)→
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→
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.
Going to Japan was an old dream. Since I met Fukuda Teruhisa Sensei in 2006, I was looking forward to the day I could fly again to Tokyo and study with him there. Life took its time to make this trip possible. Preparing it was already great. Doing it was overwhelming.
I’m back since a few days, after 3 weeks of travel and experiences. I didn’t have time to write and post when I was there. I always need time to reflect on my experiences.
What attracts me most in the shakuhachi, what touches me most beyond its fabulous sound, is the spirituality and the nature. Maybe they are both the same for me. Being in nature is meditating. I sometimes go to the the forest nearby where I live with a head full of thoughts, and I come back with a head full of birds’ songs.
Playing a traditional music which isn’t from your own country is like speaking a foreign language. Going to Japan was going to the source of this language and trying to discover and feel what inspired the people who created this music. Quite a program. In two parts. Tokyo, for the shakuhachi lessons, the culture, the modern life. Hokkaido for the nature. There were both as inspiring.