Tag Archives: Spirituality

Flute & 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:

 

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Playing shakuhachi at funerals

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

Meditation or music? Or both?

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?

Continue reading Meditation or music? Or both?

Blue eyes – October 2018

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

Summer 2018 – WSF London (2)

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)

Shakuhachi & Meditation

Happy 2018!

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.

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Practicing Kokū 虚空

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

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Performances

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?

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Karl Jenkins – Requiem

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”.

Continue reading Karl Jenkins – Requiem