The last time I visited the patients at the dementia care home was almost one year ago, just before Christmas 2018. At that time, I didn’t know it was the last time. My guide and colleague A., who accompanied me for most of my visits, was still ill, and I went visiting the patients with the nurse organising the activity, H. I didn’t write about it at that time, because nothing really special happened (although each visit is special in itself), and I thought I would couple it to my next visit, which I expected to be planned in January. But no appointment came in January, nor in February, nor in the months after. H. hoped that it could start again after the summer, but sadly, it didn’t. A. was still ill and H. couldn’t find a replacement. As I moved outside of the city at the beginning of September, it would have become more difficult for me to combine it with my work schedule (I kept for months an afternoon per week free in case I would be called to play), so I decided to let go of it and I officially stopped last month, after 5 years of playing for these patients. Continue reading Shakuhachi & Dementia: My Last Visit
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”
The idea to combine chakra meditation and shakuhachi occurred to me already a couple of years ago. The shakuhachi is such a special instrument, whether it gives energy, peace, spiritual awakening or helps you fall asleep. When I started to be interested in this topic, I found some music composed for shakuhachi related to chakras, but this was not what I was looking for, so I kept on searching further.
I eventually created my own chakra meditation practice with shakuhachi in a very simple way. It is not related to special frequencies like some other musical chakra meditations, but aims to help you open your entire body, heart and soul when you play shakuhachi.
I introduced this practice during the last Fukiawase session, and my students seemed interested in it. So this encourages me to share this practice in this post.
Continue reading Chakra meditation with shakuhachi
This term is used by Fukuda Teruhisa to invite us to play some honkyoku with flutes of different lengths (1.8, 2.4, 2.7) using transposed parts in order to play each piece in unison. He calls it “harmonisation of the breaths”. He wrote special versions of Honte Choshi and Yamato Choshi for this practice, with the idea of mixing the specific colours of each flute to enrich the global result.
I borrowed this term to give it as name for special sessions I have been organising from time to time with my students to play shakuhachi together. These are meetings where we meditate and play together. They are no lessons or rehearsals, even though we sometimes play from notation (Fukiawase or standard versions of honkyoku). It is a moment to blow together and inspire each other, to be in the “here and now”, listen, feel and experiment. It is different each time. Everyone can give a suggestion and feel free to participate actively or silently. Because silence is also part of music. Continue reading Fukiawase
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.