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 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.
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
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
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.
So music or meditation?
It has been a while I didn’t go to play for the people with dementia. Before the summer, A., who always accompanies me for the visits, was very ill and the visits were cancelled. In July and August, I was busy abroad. It felt great today to be back to the essential of playing music for me: be part of somebody’s normal daily life, outside of concert halls and music festivals.
I can’t explain how priceless this experience is for me. It is not only a musical experience, but also a spiritual one. It feels like applying meditation, particularly compassion and Tonglen practice, to the patients. Their brains don’t function properly anymore and they are not able to meditate, but while listening to the shakuhachi, I hope they find some peace and quietness of the mind. Continue reading Blue eyes – October 2018
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)
I wish you a healthy, peaceful, musical and happy New Year!
A new year has started, with new challenges and new resolutions. Last year, my good resolutions were to follow 12 zen rules and apply them to shakuhachi. I kept this in mind throughout the year, and started gradually a more consistent practice of meditation. This leads me to my good resolution of this year: be a better person. I believe that everyone can contribute to make this world better starting with oneself, and I’m trying to improve my share. I have been learning a lot since I’m meditating on a daily basis and it has been deepening my shakuhachi practice. Although I’m still a beginner, I’d like to share with you how meditation helps me to become a better shakuhachi player.
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.
Source: The International Shakuhachi Society