Saturday, August 25, 2012

Life's Choices

It's been over a year since my last post. Life has forced me to make a choice of either blogging or practicing shakuhachi so I've chosen the latter. Much has happened over the last year that has been quite interesting and I have met more great folks within the shakuhachi world. I have continued to practice and in September will have persevered through three years. I now know that I will play for the rest of my life. I hope to be blogging more as the in the future but I am sure that it will be limited. I have much to talk about but little time. Anyway, I am still following all of your blogs and hope to be in touch more by commenting, etc. Stay well!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Heads Up!

I think that I have finally realized how important the movement of the head is in Shakuhachi. As I learn Level 1 of 4 from the basic Honkyoku book, notation by Kurahashi Yodo I,  I am being taught all of these new (to me that is) head movements. I think that meri/dai meri to kari have finally arrived within my repertoire. Down to meri will expose a poor embouchure in deed. As I move my head down I realize that I must keep my embouchure wide and flat but not forced. This allows meri to maintain sound even while playing dai meri notes. The difficulty for me after the embouchure was this habit of raising the flute versus dropping the head. I think that I have finally overcome that bad habit but I regress from time to time. My teacher, Phil Nyokai James, has taught me the importance of a loose neck. If the neck is relaxed it can fall forward by gravity and quick meri to kari, or dai meri to kari transitions, will be smoother and faster as the piece calls for it.

Two areas that I am still struggling with are furi and yuri but I know that time and practice is the key along with a "relaxed neck", don't forget! Anytime that I force something it seems to back fire on me. Right now I am working on furi and yuri and I must say that the relaxed neck works but I really have to concentrate on it. If my neck is stiff the furi does not sound that good at all, you can tell that it is forced. For yuri my head constantly wants to change direction on me. I thought that maybe I should try going to the left as it did not seem forced so I did that for awhile and realized that one time I was going to the right and the next time to the left. If I slow down and really concentrate it comes out okay. Also, I found that just rolling my head in a circle helps to loosen things up. Sometimes I do the head rolls with the Shakuhachi against me lips without blowing. Try it you may find that it helps.

By the way the Peonies are starting to bloom in New England, see for yourself.

FYI, I have completed the interview with Phil Nyokai James and have begun to transcribe it on paper, a long and tedious process. It will be coming soon in two or three parts. Spread the word. Thanks!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Perfect gathering

I was viewing some videos and came across this one. Now this looks like a great time to me! What a perfect gathering with food, drink, and Shakuhachi. Wish I was there! See the video below.

Soon I will post part one of an interview with Phil Nyokai James. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Internment Camp Shakuhachi

A very interesting story! Something really good to come out of an embarrassing moment in the history of the United States.

I urge you all to check out Monty Levenson's website; see "Links to websites" below. Once on his site go to the left side bar and click on the "WHAT'S NEW" tab and you will find it on that page. 

There is some talk of a possible concert with this flute at Manzanar Internment Camp pictured below which is now a National Historic Site under the U.S. National Park Service. It is located in Inyo County California near the eastern Sierras. Enjoy!

"Restoration of 1.8' Shakuhachi Rescued from a WWII-era Japanese Internment Camp".  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Struggles II

So here I am sixteen months into my Shakuhachi journey as Erin has so appropriately named her blog. My next big hurdle, which will probably be a life long struggle, is pitch. A good friend of mine who is a professional musician/teacher said to me today that this is his nemesis as he constantly struggles with it daily and will continue to do so to try to achieve perfection. As you may know, perfection as seen through the eyes of the Japanese, can never truly be reached. But it doesn't mean that we should give up on its' pursuit, just the contrary. It is the path or way to perfection that is the most important thing.

Also, my friend pointed out that many instruments have multiple variables that can affect the pitch. Of course let's take the Shakuhachi as an example as this is all or part of where our interest lies. Now I must put a disclaimer on this as I know very little about music in general and the theory of music. The fundamentals of music theory (pitch, rhythm, scales, melody, harmony, timbre, etc.) is a study in itself but I would like to talk about my struggles with pitch. Many times it has been pointed out to me by my teacher that my notes are too flat, for instance "ri". So I try to raise the pitch by lifting my head up and changing the angle of my embouchure in relation to the utaguchi. Here's two variables that I've discovered throughout my practice which has affected my pitch: head angle to the utaguchi and embouchure. To help with my efforts to play in pitch I purchased a chromatic tuner. Many times when I do robuki or scales I use the tuner to check if I am playing in pitch and not too flat or sharp. I will tell you that I use the tuner as an occasional tool not every time that I play. The importance of just 'being in the moment' of robuki or long tones is just as important as playing the right pitch. Many times I find that if I get too technical it takes away from the true path that I am on, however, playing the right pitch is very important. I did notice that how hard you blow has no affect on the pitch so if you are too flat or too sharp you will remain that way even when you blow harder.

Anyway, I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic as I am interested to see what you all have experienced in your playing whether you disagree or not. My eyes, ears, and ego remain open to your thoughts and experiences as always.

Here's a pic of my tuner.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Sorry but my work has kept me away from posting over the past month or so.

I want to discuss the struggles that I face as someone who has been playing Shakuhachi for about fifteen months. I've noticed that I made some really nice gains from about six to twelve months then I started to ride a plateau.  I'm struggling with my embouchure as regards to the higher register (kan) with the higher notes like chi, hi, etc.... some days I have it and all sounds well; other days it is a total mess. Well, I've decided to really enjoy this plateau instead of being frustrated. I know that it is in there somewhere so it makes it that much more frustrating at times. Here's what I've been doing. I started to play really small segments of music where I'm having the trouble in the hope that lots of repetition will help, and it does to some degree. However, I have also realized that each person, better yet, each body learns at its' own pace and you can only push through so far. You'll notice that you will hit these plateaus and stay there for awhile. You may understand what you need to do intellectually but you can't quite get your body to do it. I understand that this is all part of the learning process but it still is frustrating at times.

So my theory is this: add one piece of rice paper to the pile everyday and one day that pile will be heavy enough to drop through to the next level. So when you are frustrated with your practice in general or if you are having difficulty with a certain piece it's all very, play, play your shakuhachi daily adding that one piece of rice paper to the pile.

Be well and Happy Holidays to all!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Japanese Flutist Watazumi "Doso"

Watazumi Roshi otherwise known as "Doso" was an extremely interesting character whose way I find very captivating. As a martial artist and student of the Shakuhachi I can truly identify with his "way". Morihei Ueshiba (O-Sensei), the founder of Aikido, said that farming and Aikido were a perfect mixture. Both will work the body but farming provides a sense of freedom and a connection to the earth. Doso worked his body daily with a staff and his kokyu (breath power) with the Shakuhachi. His primary concern was the breath and the music that came from the breath was secondary. He is one of the most influential Shakuhachi masters to date but there is very little in the way of film/video available. Enjoy this video as they are few and far between.