Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Japanese Pedagogy of Art

According to scholars of Japanese arts:

‘The teacher seldom identifies the error, but waits until the phrase is played correctly and then expresses approval’ (repetition of practice), and its ‘goal is to perform the piece exactly as the teacher has presented it’ (Trimillos 1989).

Throughout the process, verbal instruction and conceptual understanding are intentionally avoided as they may distract a whole-body grasp of artistry (Hare, 1998).

There is no artistic content for the performer to ‘grasp’ cognitively, but instead a surface aesthetic that ‘grasps’ or transforms the performer, shaping the artist into the form of the art itself’ (Keister 2004).

Yamaguchi Goro's students have written about his teaching style (see for details the edited book dedicated to Yamaguchi: ISBN-10: 4882933381). It was basically "teaching by non teaching." Here, I translate Mizuno Komei's memory of studying with Yamaguchi, which he posted on his website.

I have studied shakuhachi for 31 years since 1968 without any break. What's most gratifying to me was that I could study with Yamaguchi Goro sensei during this period of time.

During the 31 years, I had just one time in which Gamaguchi sensei made a complimentary remark on my progress, and two times he critiqued my playing. Otherwise, he normally said, "That's fine, that's all about it today." There was no feedback, whether my playing was good or bad, let alone any advice to my playing.

His mother told me these things: "Long time ago, the master teacher (Yamaguchi Shiro) got a student who was very serious about shakuhachi study. He memorized the music. The sheet music was put on the table for the teacher, not for him, and during the lesson, he kept starring at the teacher. He copied everything even when the teacher moved his eyebrow." Another time, she said, "One student complained that the teacher (Shiro) didn't teach anything while receiving the lesson fee. Artistry is not something you are taught to master but you steal from your teacher."

Surely, there is not much we can explain about music through language, as music expresses subtlety of human emotion. I believe that Goro-sensei also shared the same idea with Shiro-sensei, namely, you can only "steal" artistry from your teacher. Those who cannot understand it cannot understand it any way even with words, and those who can understand it can understand it without verbal explanation. Thus, either way, verbal explanation is unnecessary. I tried to be the latter by sensitizing my ability when I was taking lessons. When playing together with Goro-sensei, I tried to restrain my volume so that I could hear what he was trying to teach me. I am not sure even now if I could ever steal any of his artistry.
[This is a Japanese way to be modest.]

Teaching by non teaching is a part of the Japanese teaching style. I've come across many teachers like Yamaguchi Goro who are not explicit in words. Playing together is the dominant format of teaching. But then, one may question, does this work outside of Japan? Many shakuhachi teachers, especially non-Japanese teachers, have reported that they needed to change their teaching styles they naturally acquired in Japan in order to accommodate to the needs of students outside of Japan. I remember local students of Kumamoto prefecture, upon meeting North American shakuhachi students, repeated several times, "You have only studied shakuhachi for 4 years, and you are already so good. I envy you because our teacher...."

I can see the values of both sides.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tips to be an out-blower




Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blowing inward and blowing outward

We often talk about uchibuki (内吹き) and sotobuki (外吹き). Uchibuki (blowing inward) means more air goes into a pipe. Sotobuki (blowing outward) refers to the opposite blowing style, that is, less air goes into a pipe.

The nature of advice and tips for shakuhachi playing varies, depending on which style you are familiar with. Some of the descriptions below may be useful if you already know your blowing style.

But how do you know your blowing style.

A visual example of blowing inward here.
A visual example of blowing outward here (in Okamoto’s research)

The player in the first example is Sogawa Kinya, a very good player and maker. Okamoto plays in the second example. In these video clips, you need to pay attention to where the air goes around the utaguchi.

Two ways to know if you are blowing in or out:

1. Use a kleenex like this

2. Put a candle (or lighter) under the bottom of your shakuhachi and blow Ro. If the fire disappears, you are likely to be a blowing inward person. Alternatively, you can put a candle near the utaguchi. If the fire disappears, you are probably a sotobuki player.

Those who blow downward tend to be uchibuki players whereas those blow straight or upward tend to be sotobuki players.

If you are an uchibuki player, you better use an instrument that is catered for uchibuki players (according to Sugawara). You play with an image that the air goes into the flute (downward).

If you are a sotobuki player, one tip for better playing is to make the lower line of your air jet (like air beam or blade) hit the top side of the utaguchi edge. It is like "shaving" the utaguchi.

Ishikawa introduces a way to switch from a blowing inward style to a blowing outward style based on his personal experience. (I summarized his point here. Take a look at his website for more info). Usually, when playing kan notes (high register), you tend to blow outward. Ishikawa therefore practiced this way. By maintaining the Re in kan position, he lowered the pitch to otsu Re, while paying attention to the blowing angle (not allowing the air to go into the flute). After getting used to this Re position, he practiced Ro in otsu in the blowing out position.

Generally, sotobuki generates a softer, louder, shimmering tone quality. Uchibuki is good for hard, dark, condensed tones.

Personally, I prefer the uchibuki tone quality when it comes to meri notes. I cannot get as big meri sound in the sotobuki style as I can in the uchibuki blowing. (It's a bit like trading in the brightness of kari tones for the richness of meri notes). Note that one cannot easily switch the blowing style while playing. It's more like changing a habit, which takes time.

Examples of sotobuki players: Yokoyama Katsuya, Kakizakai Kaoru, and many.
Examples of uchibuki players: Aoki Reibo, Tanabe Ryozan, Onishi Jofu (based on others' observations. I have not confirmed with each player)

This player is also probably an uchibuki player.

Sugawara Kuniyoshi tested more than 40 professional players and identified more sotobuki players than uchibuki players -- about 2 to 1 (Hogaku Journal, 2008, no. 260). He states hat the often repeated instruction in textbooks -- dividing the air into half the inside and outside of the flute -- is incorrect. In reality, the larger the deviation is, the larger the volume is. So is the tone quality (with less noise). This is confirmed in research on the pipe organ (by Yoshikawa Shigeru). So the first thing you need to know in order to improve your playing is your blowing style.

He also found that out-blowers were able to play other players' flutes that they had never played before, but in-blowers were NOT or even if they could, the sound was not as vibrant. Thus, he recommends that in-blower students had better acquire their instruments from in-blower makers.

My encounters with shaku players in the West seem to recommend the sotobuki style only (this could be an influence of Kenshukan teachers such as Kakizakai). Players of the western flute show a bit different attitude: More seem to appreciate uchibuki over sotobuki (the French style, etc.). But this is not certain yet.

The bottom line is (1) understand your blowing style and (2) seek advice from a teacher who is aware of the different blowing styles. Preferably, your teacher’s style is the same as yours.

I’ve come across many teachers (and makers) who simply say to their students (and customers), “your playing is not good enough,” when the student’s blowing style is not the same as theirs.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The meaning of "sugagaki"

According to the 大辞泉 dictionary, sugagaki means;

1. One of the techniques used for the Japanese koto (wagon), which involves plucking all the strings at once from the near side and then stopping them except the third and fourth strings, using the left hand, so that the reverberation of these two
strings remains.

2. signifies koto or shamisen pieces, composed in the early edo period, which do not contain singing parts. An example is "rokudan sugagaki" (rokudan no shirabe).

3. A kind of shakuhachi honkyoku music. It's been said that this was originally an arrangement of the above kind (definition 2) but not certain. An example is "sanya sugagaki."

4. One of the shamisen phrases, a simple one, performed by a series of alternation between playing the second and third strings simultaneously AND plucking only the third string. During the edo time, prostitutes of the yoshiwara area performed to attract customers in front of the shop. Called "mise sugagaki."

5. A kind of "geza" music for kabuki that contains the #4 phrase mentioned above; it also refers to other kinds of shamisen music containing the #4 phrase. It is an indication of "kuruwa." (Geza music is played as background music behind the stage of kabuki performance where it is covered by a black blind. Kuruwa signifies an enclose area, such as a prostitution district, which in older times was enclosed by walls or trenches.

According to the 大辞林 dictionary,
Sugagaki (清掻・菅掻) is a noun of the verb "sugagaku."

1. One of the kata forms of wagon technique. It is often used in pieces as a basic form.

2. Koto or shamisen pieces composed in the early edo period that do not contain a singing part.

3. Often written as 菅垣, it is attached to names of shakuhachi honkyoku pieces, such as "sanya sugagaki." The original may mean the music of stringed instruments.

4. The kind of music prostitutes played inside the lattice of a sex house to while waiting for customers. It is a form of shamisen music with no singing part. "Mise sugagaki."

5. A kind of geza music, performed in the scene of yoshiwara.

Shimeda Takashi writes in 日本大百科全書 that:
...is written 菅掻、清攬、or 菅垣. Generally, it refers to a set of instrumental music from the kinsei (16th-19th century). It is a name of instrumental music played with so (koto), shamisen, and hitoyogiri, which tends to be introductory pieces. This kind of pieces are included in "shichiku shoshinshu" (『糸竹初心集』(1664) and "oonusa" (『大ぬさ』(1685).
There are also many koten honkyoku shakuhachi pieces that have a sugagaku title, such as "akita sugagaki" and "nidan sugagaki."
It is a basic technique used for the wagon. It also refers to phrases that include
this technique.
Also used for the gakuso (a koto used in gagaku music) for the same reason.

It also serves as the name of phrases used in shamisen music. It began`as a simple expression played by prostitutes in the Yoshiwawa of Edo as a means to attract customers. It was later included in theater music and became an expression of the yoshiwara and kuruwa (red district). Its applications can be found in tokiwazu, kiyomoto, and nagauta (styles of music).

According to the 日本国語大辞典,
Sugagaki is a technique used in wagon playing... There are two ways: Plucking the strings from the far side, called jungaki, and plucking from the near side, called gyakugaki. [I think the combination of these two is called katagaki.]

According to the 日本国語大辞典,
Sugagaku 清掻 as a verb means playing some notes sporadically rather than performing
a piece or a set of technique.

[Example: "You shouldn't sugagaku (play around or improvise)but play hon-choshi or tsu-re everyday."]
I was told that Akita sugagaki is a "soft" piece whereas koku, monbiraki, shinya, etc. are "hard" pieces. Sugagaki may carry some "feminine" connotations....

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Kondo Soetsu

Kondo Soetsu was originally from Nagasaki where he was exposed to a
Chinese trumpet (Perhaps, suona). Nagasaki at that time was exposed to foreign cultures, and Chinese music (shingaku) was easily acceptable. Soetsu moved to Kyoto and studied myoan shinpo-ryu with Ozaki Shinryo.... Because his emphasis was gaikoku,not honkyoku, Ozaki designated Katsuura Shozan, not Kondo Soetsu, for the successor of the myoan shinpo tradition. After moving to Osaka, he established the foundation for sankyoku collaboration. He was the founder of soetsu-ryu in which he promoted gaikoku pieces. Although he was small, his sound was large and quite vibrant. Many studied with him. Examples were.... Many players of the time who were ranked top in the 1871 (meiji 4nen) shakuhachi ranking were his students. Because he held the flute horizontally, he was called "charumera Soetsu." The soetsu school no longer exists. Nakao Tozan studied with a student of Soetsu. Sakai Chikuho also studied with a student of Soetsu.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pedagogy of Kata

In the context of Japanese knowledge transmission, the primacy of bodily form is evident (Tsujimoto, 1999). Kata is the philosophical principle that underpins the bodily form of artistry transmission (e.g., Hahn, 2007; Matsunobu, 2007b, 2009; Powell, 2004; Yuasa, 1987). Traditionally, Japanese arts have been preserved and transmitted through kata, literally ‘form’ or ‘mold,’ through which students learn structures of art, patterns of artistic and social behaviors, and moral and ethical values, all in accordance with prescribed formulae. Kata is a set of bodily movements that have been developed and preserved by precedent artists. The most efficient and authentic way to master the artistry, it is believed, is to follow the model defined as kata.

Central to this pedagogy is the repeated practice and imitation of the model through the body. The acquisition of kata is thus a ‘discipline for shaping one’s body into a form’ (Yuasa, 1987: 105). Trimillos’ observation of a Japanese teacher epitomizes the characteristics of kata learning: ‘The teacher seldom identifies the error, but waits until the phrase is played correctly and then expresses approval’ (repetition of practice), and its ‘goal is to perform the piece exactly as the teacher has presented it’ (Trimillos 1989: 39). Yano (2002) observes that the Western dualism between form and content, each of which traditionally corresponds to the false and the true, dissolves as continuous and interpenetrating parts in the theory of kata. Kata is content attendant upon form. The creative goal of kata-training is ‘to fuse the individual to the form so that the individual becomes the form and the form becomes the individual’ (Yano 2002: 26).

Kata is also a social practice in that it involves the body directly in a social setting. Through the correct imitation of formal patterns that define not only ideal artistic expressions but also ideal moral behaviors, students participate in the social embodiment of values. The difference between kata and what we are familiar with as ‘form’ (called katachi in Japanese) is that the former is a content-attendant, embodied, habitual, contextualized, and value-laden form, whereas the latter is an abstract and empty form. Kata historicizes, socializes, and spiritualizes the individual, but katachi formulates, abstracts, and standardizes one’s imagination and thought.

In the context of noh performance, the distinction between kata and katachi is explained through the concept of tai (‘embodied form’) and (‘expressiveness’ or ‘taste’). If someone expresses a piece only with yū (that is without tai), the performance is not considered as a representation of the piece. The founder of noh, Zeami Motokiyo (1364–1443), elaborates it in this way:

One must know tai-yū in Noh. Tai is like a flower and yū is like its scent. Or tai is like the moon and yū like the moon-light. If one has a thorough comprehension of tai, one should naturally possess yū…. No one should copy the yū, the outer appearance of the performance. Those who know enough see another actor’s performance with heart and soul and so copy the work of tai. When the tai is closely copied, the actor’s performance will naturally have yū with it. (Sekine, 1985: 117–118)

The core of a piece of work derives from tai (or kata) not yū (or katachi). If someone has copied only the latter, but not the former, then his or her expression becomes superficial and lacks spirit.

KM: Is your embodiment of shakuhachi music based on the kata or devised as katachi?