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Beginner mind....
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Michael stJohn Hartley
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PostPosted: 2013-03-21, 22:51    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

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Hi all. My first actual post. I was chatting with someone, and feeling a little irritated at the discussion with all the weight on 'you have to have a teacher' 'why is the quality of players so shitty today' and 'why do total idiots post on youtube!' (although I have the same question!)

I was actually writing to make an offer on a really low-priced flute, and made the following remark: 'I think you and I are the only two guys not skyping lessons, in Germany! For me its just too expensive. My kids are now 21-in canada- and 19 -in Lüneburg- so costs are theoreticaly down, but we are not running our business, so living on small savings...There is an irritating quality -for me- to 'you have to have a teacher' energy. I need a komuso monk who's just looking for a bowl of rice! But actually, since the point of the shakuhachi is to meditate , ie., play 'ro' for ever into enlightenment, it hardly needs a music teacher, but a zen teacher... '

And I started to think about why I got into shakuhachi, and what I love about it. First, I always meditated, and I always liked the concept of Zen, especially everyminute zen. Second, I am attracted to things Japanese, calligraphy, seals, the music (although my first shakuhachi album may have been riley lee!) Tea Ceremony and so on. So when I heard there was a 'Prague shakuhachi festival' (2011) 3 days later than I heard of actually playing shakuhachi -Alvin Ramos's Facebook page had an 'I like Prague Shakuhachi Festival' link- I just dropped everything and went. (easy from Hamburg) Incredible energy, no arrogance, no star glamour. Actually, The master players were truly humble. BECAUSE in the end, its not even about music, its about letting go of the ego, about being humble. And maybe, about enlightenment.

Today I was listening to pre wwII shakuhachi recordings -link found here somewhere- and they seemed not to be trying to make music, but to be in a 'space.' like Watatsumi(?) who was himself apparently an incredible egotist- but who in playing, strove just for beingness/authenticity. hmmm. lot of words there Michael!

Highly recommend 'Chiku Za's cd from Spain, I am learning a lot from it....
Cheers,Michael
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De Fouw
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PostPosted: 2013-03-22, 10:50    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

Sorry message deleted, changed my mind about posting

[would be better if a post could be undone entirely as was the case on the BBQ forum]

Michael, see you in Prague!
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Chris Northover
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PostPosted: 2013-03-24, 20:22    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

First there is a teacher then there is no teacher then there is.
This seems to be a topic that constantly dogs those seeking to play the shakuhachi. Clearly we all find ourselves in different circumstances, which makes it more or less difficult to see a teacher. At first it was something that concerned me and I took part in discussions around the subject, which touched on not just whether or not to see a teacher but also the possibility of being able to pursue a meaningful relationship with the shakuhachi without being taught technique, etc.
I, personally don't want to pursue the study of the shakuhachi in any academic or musicological way. My interest is in sound production which after 4-5 years is becoming not easier but less difficult. I also find myself drawn to the ideas of Watasumi Doso, in that while my technique might be crap, my enjoyment is immense.
Since I am male, my shakuhachi is female, and it seems she can treat me kindly one day and with utter disdain the next. But I am putty in her hands and will follow along blindly, drawn towards this unattainable female! In this sense I am happy.
I suppose what I am saying is that despite my lack of teacher I do find playing enjoyable, simply to find myself blowing Ro endlessly but mindfully. Also, I am not in a hurry, which helps to make the experience enjoyable, and I am not playing for anyone else.
It all depends on your personal wishes, and I agree with much of what you mean, Michael. I wouldn't say that "idiots" post on you tube, I think there are people who need feedback more than you do. Plume Blanche is to be admired for experimenting in a way that Watasumi would admire.
To go further, "detanari" or "as it comes out"(to quote Zachary Wallmark) "emphasizes purely the act of blowing without regard for crafting the resulting sound". Watasumi is said to have told his students"if it sounds like music, you're doing it wrong".
I'll just leave that red rag dangling to see if any bulls show up!

P.s. I do hope Kiku Day will be free during April to give me some pointers on sound production, cos I do have to admit I have a hankering to explore further, but that's just me.
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Kiku Day
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PostPosted: 2013-03-25, 00:36    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

I think you can get a lot out of playing shakuhachi without a teacher....but perhaps not to the perfection within the tradition - so to speak... but that is usually not the aim either when people choose to learn without a teacher.

Chris, I will be in London in May.... I have a concert.
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2013-03-25, 07:31    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

Chris Northover wrote:
I also find myself drawn to the ideas of Watasumi Doso, in that while my technique might be crap, my enjoyment is immense.


Watazumi is dead otherwise you might find a hocchiku coming up your backside for misquoting him like this. Crying or Very sad Evil or Very Mad Crying or Very sad Confused

What a weird thing to say.
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Chris Northover
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PostPosted: 2013-03-25, 09:33    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

I didn't misquote anybody. Any quote attributed to Watasumi you'll find I acknowledged as such. What I meant to say was that there is a freedom in what Watasumi says and I think it's perfectly valid to say that my inept improvisation would not be disapproved of by such a man. Don't you see that there are less able players out here who find pleasure in what they do and maybe shakuhachi can accommodate a "punk generation".
Why is it weird to say that there is room for free improvisation, perhaps reflecting Nature,say, and that those of us who have yet to perfect their technique can't go down that road, with the blessing of those of you lucky enough to have discovered this glorious instrument early enough to have moved higher.
I'm am truly sorry if I have offended Watasumi's memory, but what I said was intended to be constructive to those still struggling and with no easy access to teachers.
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Chris Northover
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PostPosted: 2013-03-25, 09:56    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

The quote Came from Ethnomusicology Review; Sacred abjection in Zen Shakuhachi by Zachary Wallmark.He quotes a conversation between Bill Shozan Schultz and Watasumi, 24 November 2010.
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Chris Northover
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PostPosted: 2013-03-25, 10:04    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

Published in that year. I know Watasumi died in 1992. A horribly freak accident.
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rileylee
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PostPosted: 2013-03-25, 13:21    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

Michael, here's a question for you. If money/time/energy/location were not issues for you, or say if an experienced shakuhachi player lived next door to you and was happy to come over to your place anytime you wished to teach you and for nothing in return, would you refuse?

If your answer was no, you wouldn't refuse, then how about if you had to go to her house, actually walk across the street, for a lesson? Still okay?

If so, then how about if you had to travel say 30 minutes, and also maybe was expected to leave a donation (any amount, even small change - really just as a token of your appreciation of the teacher's willingness to spend part of her precious, and very finite hours of her one and only life, showing you what she's learned from the tens of thousands of hours of practice, and also as recognition of those hours)? Would you still go see this person?

If you're still answering yes, then at what distance would you decide it wasn't worth it? At what dollar amount? It's your decision.

Just because you choose however, not to get advice after that advice reaches a certain cost in terms of time/effort/money, your choice not to seek out that advice doesn't in any way diminish the value of the advice.

I think most people agree that even a beginner with no teacher, can derive hours, even years of pleasure blowing into a bamboo flute. Most people however, would also agree that an untutored novice won't even know what he doesn't know, about doing just about anything that requires a modicum of skill or technique, be it playing the shakuhachi or playing football. That's okay, of course; it's fun just kicking around a ball alone by oneself, really.

Yes, one doesn't need a shakuhachi teacher, especially in Chris's case, where he's not asking anyone to listen to the sounds he makes when blowing into his flute.

BTW, there is academia and musicology, and then there is music. Certain musical conventions have been followed by the majority of shakuhachi players over the last three or four hundred years. These conventions continue to be followed today, for aesthetic and other reasons. In other words, generations of shakuhachi players have collectively decided that there was something 'there' worth learning, doing and passing on. Of course, you don't need to know a thing about these conventions in order to enjoy your bamboo blowing.

You also don't have to know anything at all about these super pieces, which embody these conventions. These pieces are so wonderful that generation after generation of individuals have been motivated to spend some of their precious few hours on this earth to learn them, and then to play them again and again until they became so good at playing them that others wanted to learn them too. The pieces wouldn't still exist after all these centuries if they weren't that good. And, I can tell you from personal experience, that while listening to this music is fine, playing them can be unbelievably better.

I personally find it incredible that anyone wouldn't want to learn as much as they could about these wonderful bits of music, but then I am extremely biased.

Then, there is this idea that playing shakuhachi is Zen meditation, and as such, there is no need for a teacher.

Firstly, ask any Zen practitioner and you will be told that if there was ever an occasion when a teacher could be useful, it would be while trying to do Zen meditation. Mind you, they'd also argue, rightfully so, that Zen meditation is silent, seated meditation, not blowing into a piece of bamboo.

Secondly, if you ever even allow someone to listen to your flute sounds, much less encourage them to do so, then you're leaving the sphere of meditation and entering the world of music. I hesitate to say that there are no hour-long videos on Youtube of people just sitting in meditation, but if there are, I doubt watching the videos would be very effective Zen meditation and certainly the experience of the folks meditating would not have been enhanced by being videoed or further enhanced by those videos being watched.

In other words, I think some people confuse their meditation with their music-making and visa versa.

Apropos your pre-WWII recordings, if they weren't trying to make music, I wonder why they allowed themselves to be recorded. I also wonder if the folks recording them knew if they were any good or not. Humm....

Finally, my two-and-a-half-year old grandson most definitely has the mind of an 'authentic beginner', but his shakuhachi playing (he does try, bless his heart :-) is not something even his doting grandfather cares to listen to.
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Chris Northover
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PostPosted: 2013-03-25, 16:35    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

Apart from the fact that the shakuhachi is a truly wonderful invention, no-one can say it yields its secrets easily. Anyone with a soul can only listen in awe at what can be rendered by a master.
Why does somebody seeking a debate on the notion of teacher/no teacher have to be compared to a toddler.
Tips and advice to get people through these initial phases would be good.
I've been having a good time for a few years but for me I had to reach a certain point before becoming confident enough to think a teacher might be worthwhile. Obviously, had I lived near a teacher my line might have been different, but a ten hour £80 round trip plus the cost of a lesson made me think that I had better have at least got some decent sound beforehand.
"Breathe" is a great help BTW.
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rileylee
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PostPosted: 2013-03-25, 23:13    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

Okay. Here are some tips.

There are really no secrets at all to playing the shakuhachi well. It's not difficult, just very time-consuming.

Playing shakuhachi well takes tens of thousands of hours of practice, and with a teacher it takes a few thousand hours less.

Even thousands of hours of practicing the wrong thing in the wrong way won't help you become skilled at playing shakuhachi well.

Teachers are particularly useful in getting through the initial phases; helping a beginner get a decent sound quickly in the beginning is one thing a good teacher can do.

There are no free lunches.

Speaking of which, I suppose the cost to you for these tips was your thinking that you were being compared to a toddler. A small price to pay, but then the tips are small too.

In any case, the comparison was about authentic beginners; nothing to do with the teacher/no teacher issue. BTW, there is nothing to debate here. Having a teacher is better than not, but only if you want to acquire the skills to play at full potential (yours and the flute's). Teachers cost time and energy, and usually money. Many people can't afford to spend the time and energy, and usually the money. That's perfectly fine.

As I said in my previous missive, blowing into a piece of bamboo is fun, one of life's simple pleasures. Having a teacher won't necessarily increase that pleasure. On that level, I agree with you that there is no need for a teacher.
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Chris Northover
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PostPosted: 2013-03-26, 02:55    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

Riley,what's brilliant about this forum is that people of your stature come on and say their piece. It would take an idiot not to sense your heartfelt frustration, you're discussing an instrument that has become your life, and you are right in what you say. But let me just say that,
in fact, your last line is also a precious thing to hear for those who have been seduced by the shakuhachi and have their own relationship with it. You and I are the same age... Can you imagine my frustration at having discovered this blasted flute at the age of 58!!
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2013-03-26, 08:56    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

Chris Northover wrote:
maybe shakuhachi can accommodate a "punk generation".
Why is it weird to say that there is room for free improvisation,


Um. I am a punk. And I do free improvisation. I just don't think Watazumi thought crap technique was something to strive for, considering how advanced his was.

But you call our attention to an article which is worth reading although the writer puts a lot of his personal biases into it.

http://ethnomusicologyreview.ucla.edu/journal/volume/17/piece/585

"Watazumi counseled participants: “You all have to give up the idea of wanting to become good or great at music” (Watazumi 1981). He also frequently told students, “if it sounds like music, you’re doing it wrong” (conversation with Schultz, 24 November 2010)." seems to be the quote you're referring to.

Not sure if that's exactly the same as, "while my technique might be crap, my enjoyment is immense."


Last edited by Brian Tairaku Ritchie on 2013-03-26, 10:35; edited 1 time in total
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Chris Northover
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PostPosted: 2013-03-26, 10:27    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

Brian Tairaku Ritchie wrote:
Chris Northover wrote:
maybe shakuhachi can accommodate a "punk generation".
Why is it weird to say that there is room for free improvisation,


Um. I am a punk. And I do free improvisation. I just don't think Watazumi thought crap technique was something to strive for, considering how advanced his was.


I don't think for one moment that Watasumi would have supported crap technique, but given anybody's limitations, shouldn't you allow for the fact that they need ,however ineptly in your eyes, to express themselves. That's all I meant.
I wish you well with your occasional glimpses of the summit, while I busy myself frantically at base camp, wondering,given the immensity of the task, whether I'll ever get out of the foothills.
I love the idea of Watasumi sticking his dick in the tea at a tea ceremony and then pissing in it, as recounted by Katsuya Yokohama. Surely that shows him as no respecter of convention or "the archetypal barbarian" as Dan Mayers calls him.
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2013-03-26, 10:47    Post subject: Beginner mind.... Reply with quote

Chris, now you're putting words and thoughts into my mouth and head when I haven't said anything of the sort. Stop speculating....... Okay Razz

Nobody said anything about people not having a right to "express themselves".

Some styles of shakuhachi are about expressing oneself and some are not.
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