Thursday, November 5, 2009

Unraveling the tradition...

Based on my interview with an experienced shakuhachi player-scholar in Japan.

1. Kobayashi Shizan (the 36th Abbot of Myoan temple)

In his book Shakuhachi Higi, Kobayashi Shizan writes the shakuhachi should be played with accurate pitches. Meri should be as deep as possible. At least, that's what he preached in his book. However, in reality he was not very particular about pitch. He often said no meri should be added to "tsu" in the chi-chi-u-tsu phrase. That's the myoan way. When he played, his meri was not deep at all.

Today, many people criticize this "myoan" way of playing, especially the degree of meri. Drawing on Kobayashi Shizan's book, Mr. Sakurai in Echigo Nagaoka goes on to say that meri should be as deep as half tone. He claims that Tanikita Muchiku (the 37th Abbot) is to blame for shallow meri rendering.

My interviewee is wise enough to say, "that kind of criticism is fine. It is true that myoan playing often sounds out of pitch. But that shouldn't devalue its essence."

2. Koizumi Ryoan (the 38th Abbot of Myoan Temple)

Koizumi often said "that's fine" even when his students didn't play well after his demonstration. He never said "that's not right" to the face of students. Later, Koizumi had decayed teeth and didn't play well. His students then imitated his decayed performance. Kojima Kansui (the current Aboot) studied with decayed Koizumi. After retiment, Koizumi visited Tokyo (where his son lived). My interviewee played honte choshi in front of him with chi meri. Koizumi responded: "I've taught you only a few times, but you still remember chi meri. You also played tsu meri (as in tsu-ro) right. All of my students don't do well with meri. Without meri, it doesn't sound right."

[To be fair, the degree of chi meri in Honte Choshi varies in Myoan: Played as an independent piece, chi is normal. However, when played as a prelude to Kyorei, Koku, or Mukaiji, chi needs to be meri. That's how I learned from my teacher.]

Not many people know how well Koizumi played before he got weak. After he became ill, his playing changed a lot. Sakai Shodo studied with Koizumi when Koizumi was not doing well. However, Sakai Shodo plays well. So does Shimura Satoshi (Zenpo).

Who is right? :)

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