Monday, December 28, 2009

Funagawa Toshio Memorial Concert Recordings

Funagawa Toshio Memorial Concert
April 11, 2009
Live recordings

2. Shakuhachi Trio
- Fujiwara Dozan
- Zenyoji Keisuke
- Mitsuhashi Kifu

4. Koto Quartet
- Fujiwara Dozan (shakuhachi)
- Ikegami Shingo (koto 1)
- Tone Hidenori (koto 2)
- Kezuka Tamako (17-string koto)

5. Ajikan
- Korikawa Naoki

Multi Concert
- Funagawa Toshio (shakuhachi solo)
- Haga Mikiko (koto solo)

6. Shiki no tsuki
- Izeki Kazuhiro (Voice and koto)

7. 「覚」Ensemble Concert for Two Shakuhachi and Groups (gun)
- Inada (conductor)
- Kono Shomei or Masaaki(shakuhachi 1)
- Mitsuhashi Kifu (shakuhachi 2)
Group 1: Fujiwara Dozan, Mizukawa Toshiya, Tanabe Ryozan, Harago Takashi
Group 2-1: Sugawara Kuniyoshi, kato Hideaki, Motonaga Taku(?)
Group 2-2: Sogawa Kinya, Zenyoji Keisuke

Details of the program are here:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


My uncle passed away a couple of days ago. I came back home earlier today and played tamuke while his funeral was taking place in Japan. Facing north over incense sticks, I sat on the floor and played the piece countless times. (Later, my mother said that the monk's chanting at the funeral was extremely long. So was my playing/praying).

Tamuke has several versions. Someone told me that there are three versions. I know of only two. The most well-known version (perhaps, the only version known in the West) is Watazumi's rendering.

My learning of the piece owes much to the recording of Sakaguchi Tesshin. I notated the music by listening to his recording. Later, I noticed that my teacher's teacher learned the piece directly from Sakaguchi Tesshin, and so I got his transcription.

Tamuke is often said to have come from the Nagoya area. But my teacher's teacher believes that tamuke was composed by Takahashi Kuzan who was actually the teacher of Sakaguchi Tesshin (Sakaguchi's other teacher was Miyagawa Nyozan). The reason for his claim is that he could not find tamuke in the Fudaiji music score book. Besides, he cannot find anyone who played the piece before Takahashi Kuzan.

When I discussed tamuke with my teacher's teacher, he interestingly pointed out that tamuke has much in common with sanya, the myoan "shinpo" version of sanya (three valleys), which is a completely different piece from the taizan-ha sanya. It is played with deep tsu meri and chi meri (in the so-called miyako-bushi scale). I like this version of shinya. It carries some special import and taste. In fact, Katsuura Shozan (the last shinpo-ryu person from Kyoto Myoan temple before Higuchi Taizan took office) loved this piece. It was not just that he loved the piece, but the music was very special to him.

This afternoon, my hands naturally moved too much trying to execute Watazumi-like expressions, as I am also sort of familiar with that style. But for this occasion, the simpler version suited better. I believe that shinpo-ryu sanya also goes well for a funeral. The only problem is that the piece is too long. There is a dramatic expression near the end of the piece. But the audience needs to wait long before getting to that point.

So I did "tamuke" today (tamukeru as a verb). Hopefully, it reached my uncle's spirit before he reached Pearl Gate.

P.S. Some people say that Tamuke actually comes from Yamato or Nara. So there are more than just one homogeneous view about its origin.

Description of Watazumi in Loori (2004)

Quotes from Loori, J. D. (2004). The Zen of creativity: Cultivating your artistic life. New York: Random House.

Doso didn’t use the highly polished lacquered and well-tuned flutes…. His flute was much less processed and far closer to its natural state. The inside of the section he used still revealed the bamboo guts. Most people, even experienced masters, considered that kind of instrument unplayable. Doso’s music proved that wrong. His playing always touched the very core of one’s being. Sometimes the sound had a tremendous strength, like the driving force of a cascading waterfall. Sometimes it roared like thunder. At other times it was gentle and sweet like birdsong at sunrise. It always seemed to reach me, but not through my ears: It entered my body through the base of my spine, moved upward, and spread through my being. (pp. 171–173)

the ability to be free in his music was the result of Doso’s life-long, unrelenting commitment to the discipline of the breath. He actually wasn’t very interested in the shakuhachi as a musical instrument. He called his flute suijo, which loosely translates as “concentrated breathing tool.” Doso saw himself not so much as a musician or entertainer, but as one who is totally devoted to developing his life force—chi [ki]—by utilizing and strengthening his breath. The bamboo flute was simply a tool for that practice. He said once, “Since I must have some way of knowing how my breath is doing, I blow into a piece of bamboo and hear how it sounds.” (p. 173)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Live recording of Watazumi

A new CD of Watazumi is now released. This is not a re-release of an older CD. The first seven tracks are a recording of his live performance at "Watazumido wo kiku kai." A LP of this recording existed, and many students repeatedly listened to it. They've been hoping to have a CD version, as their old tapes are so worn out.

1. Honshirabe
2. Shingetsu (performed in two different ways)
3. Tamuke
4. Shishi (Azuma)
5. Tsuru no sugomori
6. Kyorei
7. Koku

He provides some verbal explanation about the pieces and his technique. After Honshirabe, he demonstrates basic components of his expression: Jiki, Ai, Kiri, Chu, Kai, Koku, and Mataiki, and how these can convey his feeling. It blows me away. Track 1 is a must to listen.

The CD has 12 tracks

8. Daiotsugaeshi
9. Kaze
10. Sagarinami (not Sagariha)
11. Korosugagaki
12. Matsukaze

The tile of the CD is "Wadazumido: Musōshoku, Muchōon"

Friday, December 11, 2009

礫川餘光's interview with Tomimori Kyozan 1

This two-hour interview was recorded on October 27 in 1968. He talks really interesting stuff (such as "yabu-garashi," introduced earlier on this blog). I will be translating parts of his interview so that people (especially, my friend who kindly shared the recordings with me) can get a sense of what Tomimori Kyozan was saying.

1 Track 2

Honkyoku has gone through a few hundred years of transformation. The current form of honkyoku is different from its primitive form of origin. Among the oldest pieces are kyorei, murasaki no kyoku (which Ikkyu Zen master is said to have played), and sagariha (which was played during "nenbutsu odori," or chanting dance).

These days people often talk about koku. It is a sophisticated piece. But the initial form of the piece was not that sophisticated. Until the middle muromachi era, the shakuhachi had been 1.6 at longest. It could have been 1.4 to 1.5. Finger holes were also small. Thus, it was impossible to play half tones. There was probably no need to use semitones. The reason for no meri effect in myoan playing derives from that primitive style. In contrast, the kinko music is sophisticated. That's the influence of string instruments such as the koto, kokyu, and also shamisen (after keicho period) of the ensemble context. Hitoyogiri was also used in ensemble with shamisen....

(to be continued in the next track)


Yes, Shimura Zenpo plays both ji-ari and ji-nashi fairly well. There are probably many professionals who play ji-ari as skillfully as he does. But when it comes to long ji-nashi, he is definitely among the best. (I am referring more to his tones than his musicality).

Other Japanese players who handle both are Izumi Takeo and Kobayashi Shomei (known more as a ji-nashi maker who is starting monthly ji-nashi "playing" lessons at Mejiro). It wouldn't be so convincing if someone who only plays either ji-ari or ji-nashi says "playing ji-ari and playing ji-nashi are two different things."

One of these people said, "The difference is not that complex. It's just that you can play ji-ari well without using the abdomen, but not ji-nashi."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Overcoming the ji-ari and ji-nashi demarcation

In his dissertation exploring the features of vintage shakuhachi flutes from the Edo period and performers’ bodily experiences of playing them, Shimura conceptually distinguished a group of shakuhachi practitioners who pass down and practice a repertoire of honkyoku music on the ji-nashi shakuhachi—-those belonging to what Shimura describes as the “first world”—-from other practitioners in the “second world” who play a variety of music, ranging from classical music to pop music, using the ji-ari (ji-nuri, ji-mori) kairyo shakuhachi.

In the first world, the meaning of practice is determined and acquired by experiencing the spirit of komuso shakuhachi tradition through performing honkyoku music. While the emphasis of practice in the second world is often placed on enhancing one’s musicality, the practice of the first world is characterized by its spiritual orientation, often explained through the notion of ichion-jobutsu (“one tone, enlightenment”) in which the practitioners play music for their own self-cultivation.

Shimura argues that there is no distinction between professional and amateur players in this first world. Nor is there an audience who pay admission for a professional performance. The participants practice from a sense of community; this compels them to share, acknowledge, and uplift their spiritual experience of music, like how people experience at kensokai music offering events. Often, teachers in the first world possess a strong sense of responsibility to inherit and transmit traditional forms and thus provide austere lessons.

In contrast, the second world consists of institutional, school-based groups of practitioners, in addition to independent-minded musicians, that are characterized by such ranking as shihan (teaching license) and dai-shihan (great master license). In this world, performing with other established koto and shamisen groups is also an important aspect of their activities. Shimura, though quite implicitly, contrasts the epistemological differences of the two worlds and argues that the value system of one world is not easily understood from the perspective of the other.

Shimura demarcates these two worlds in order to underscore the value system of the first world, which is mistakenly labeled as “old” and “unmusical.” His distinction (between musical and the spiritual orientations to shakuhachi playing) seems more useful than the separation between the ji-ari and ji-nashi shakuhachi. For, many of the self proclaimed ji-nashi players, despites their use of ji-nashi flutes, actually belong to the second world, in which the musical result is an important determining factor. Besides, their choice of the ji-nashi flute in the second world is often based on functional reasons (e.g., volume, pitch, playability of the instrument) rather than spiritual ones. The former is associated more with the “external” dimensions of music, and the latter with the “internal” ones.

Where do you belong? What's your value? If you come across someone from the first world, you are lucky, as most players in Japan belong to the second world these days. Hopefully, there are still a number of practitioners in hiding while practicing the spiritual shakuhachi.