This is my first post of 2020, so I am way too late to wish you a Happy New Year, even the lunar one! But I do wish you health and happiness for every day in your life.
I did want to write a “Happy New Year & Good Resolutions” post, but it didn’t work. The main reason for it, I think, is that I was in “winter mode”. Not only the actual season for the Northern Hemisphere where I live, but actually this part of a cycle when you gather and restore your energy, preparing for the rest of the year, when you are not in “production mode” but in “silent mode”. It is definitely a necessary period for creativity and growth. Even if you have the feeling that you are not making any progress and you are not getting anywhere, you actually do. Why?
Last Friday, I had the great opportunity to participate to a Kyotaku workshop for beginners, organised by the Dutch Kyotaku player Hans van Loon, who had invited his master Tilopa Burdach.
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→
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→
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.
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.
This summer, Fukuda Teruhisa 福田 輝久 and his wife Kineya Shiho came to France for a full week of summer school organised by Daniel Seisoku Lifermann and La Voie du Bambou. And following up this week, they came to Rotterdam (The Netherlands), where I teach! I couldn’t be more happy.
I have been following Fukuda Teruhisa’s teaching for more than 12 years now, during 6 intensive weeks in the summer (2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2018), various weekends and masterclasses in between in Paris, and a full week of individual lessons in Tokyo in 2017, and it seems to be no end of what I can learn from him. Each summerschool, when we start with Honte Choshi or Tamuke again, I keep on learning new things, it is amazing. Like it is amazing that he is keeping on making new versions of the scores he already gave us, along with new music he arranged or composed, guiding us deeper and deeper in the details and giving us at the same time more and more knowledge, capacity and freedom to make our own choices. He is a true perfectionist and a highly inspiring teacher and performer.
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)→
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→
Since October, I have been playing shakuhachi three times at the Bosweg. I must confess I was a bit nervous the first time after October: would it be so hectic again? But actually, during these three sessions in February, March and May, the patients were very quiet. February was particularly nice, because the nurses were also very enthusiastic. Which was not entirely the case when I went again this week. What happened? Continue reading Playing again at the Bosweg→
Kokū is considered one of the oldest compositions for shakuhachi, one of the three fundamental pieces together with Kyorei and Mukaiji.
Koku means “Empty Space,” or “Empty Sky,” (“Ko,” “empty”, and “Ku” “space”, or “sky”.)
There are many legends about this piece, and many different versions. Some versions are based on the story of the “Bell Ringing in an Empty Sky”. It refers to the death of the monk Fuke and his disappearance from his coffin. Only remains the sound of his bell coming from the empty sky. Other legends say that this piece has been composed in the 12th century by the monk Kyochiku, who heard this melody in a mystical dream. With the mist blocking the moon, it looked like the sound of the flute was coming from an empty sky.
Koku has a flavor of infinite mist and echoes. It is said that playing this piece helps one explore the boundaries of “mu” or nothingness, transcending reifications, the artificial cognitive boxes into which we place objects, situations and emotions.