Joined: 17 Jan 2020
|Posted: 2020-01-23, 16:50 Post subject: A little sandpaper and a lot of time.
The first “real” shakuhachi I played was my teacher’s old flute. It was made my Sakata Seizan and tweaked by Kitahara Ikuya at Siekado. The back of the pipe (my teacher’s term) at the top had some carefully applied filler (epoxy wood) to increase the diameter.
In 2000, I visited Kitahara’s shop, and to find the perfect fit, he had a shakuhachi with a removable mouthpiece and about twenty replacement tops - all different diameters, utaguchi depths, etc. He said, “after you play about ten, you become confused and can’t remember which is which.”
Anyway, my teacher’s old flute became mine and over the years, the external filler on the top chipped. I glued it back on and and eventually, it fell off. Shock let to a eureka (ihi) moment.
Those of us that have a bunch of different flutes know that every shakuhachi is unique. My teacher used to say, “choose a shakuhachi like a wife. Don’t pick one that’s perfect, pick one that you can grow into.”
Now after more than two decades playing, I’ve found I’ve become discriminating enough (and bold enough) to tweak my instruments - the mouthpiece (everywhere but the utaguchi!) and the tuning by minutely filing the holes. This work is akin to tiptoeing through a minefield - little by little - always cautious that one too many swipes of the sandpaper and you will miss the magic point.
My start - the realization that pressing the flute - ever so slightly toward my chin - improved the sound. A few swipes with some sandpaper confirmed it - a more effortless playing position. A few more swipes followed by many minutes of playing (oh, now it needs to rotate every so slightly left); a few more swipes and more blowing (hmm, slightly more....), etc.
After many hours of microscopic tweaking, one suddenly finds the “perfect fit." When this happens, and the sound blooms better than I ever imagined, I am elated!