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Practice, Culture and History of Japanese Bamboo Flute 尺八. A Project of the European Shakuhachi Society (ESS)
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Daniel Ryudo
Professional Member


Joined: 24 Mar 2011
Posts: 50
Localisation: Kochi, Japan

PostPosted: 2012-11-15, 04:57    Post subject: Tell your story Reply with quote

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I moved to Kochi, Japan in 1986, and on my first visit to Kyoto in December of that year, I was staying in an inexpensive and somewhat rundown old minshuku when one of the other guests staying there invited me along to look for shakuhachi in antique shops in the Gion area of the city. I didn't know what a shakuhachi was, but upon seeing and trying out a few of the bamboo flutes, each of them quite different, I became interested, especially as I liked the look and feel of these beautiful bamboo objects. Then, perhaps a half a year later, in Kochi's Sunday outdoor market, which I had started visiting on weekends, I saw a Japanese fellow carrying a shakuhachi at one of the market stands and stopped him and asked him about it. He said he had just started learning the shakuhachi a few months before and that he'd be glad to take me along to his weekly lesson with a teacher who lived out in the countryside in the midst of rice fields. So I went with this guy named Kei - and I think we got lost driving out there the first time - who turned out to be running a local English conversation school, so luckily he was able to translate for me, as the shakuhachi teacher spoke no English, and I, little Japanese at that time, and I was given a PVC pipe flute by the sensei (which I played for half a year before finding an inexpensive bamboo shakuhachi in a koto shop in town). Soon afterwards I heard my first honkyoku and learned about the history of the wandering komuso and their pieces and being a former teaching assistant in history for a few years before coming to Japan and also being involved in several martial arts I was totally hooked and the flute opened up a new world for me. This coming December I'll be playing my 24th annual recital with the same sensei's group in Kochi's Historical Museum. I guess I'm a bit of a dinosaur now, like Jeff Smile
"Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus"
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Jon Palombi


Joined: 11 May 2011
Posts: 78
Localisation: Vermont, USA

PostPosted: 2012-11-19, 04:28    Post subject: Tell your story Reply with quote

Hey folks,

First off, I would like to say that I am most likely the least seasoned or talented shakuhachi player in this entire grand fellowship. But it's my 54th birthday and I've had some shots of Patron silver tequila, so I am a lot less insecure about sharing my story. Admittedly, I am no stranger to flutes of all kinds and from many cultures. I bought my first student model Gemeinhardt concert flute in 1977, when I was gong to art school in Boston. I was a huge Moody Blues, Traffic, Jethro Tull, King Crimson and Genesis fan. Naturally, my interest in progressive rock pulled my mind towards the fusion jazz of the late 70s. Soon I found myself getting more and more intrigued by jazz. Fusion was cool but the Modern jazz of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s pulled the very most on my heartstrings. Herbie Mann, Frank Wess, Eric Dolphy Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Hubert Laws and Joe Farrel... blew my impressionable young mind into cosmic confetti (so to speak). Wink

And how does this relate to my shakuhachi journey? Well... when I was at an avante-garde record shop in Bean Town in 1978, I saw this purple album with a photo of a stone Buddha statue on the front cover. Man, it was food for a hungry soul!!! As I had become more and more and more (ad infinitum)... intensely involved with sitting meditation, so I was duly intrigued. Like Pepe, I excitedly bought the album Music for Zen Meditation by jazz clarinet player Tony Scott. He was accompanied by the great Hozan Yamamoto. I recalled the highly illumined sage Alan Watts recommending this record and I didn't even hesitate. While the clarinet never really did it for me personally, I admire and deeply respect many of the players who have mastered it's quirks and complex intricacies. Eric Dolphy's bass clarinet work is still light years beyond the musical sensibilities of our peculiar species, here on planet Earth.

But the sound of the shakuhachi totally took me to a place I knew I would never be able to leave! Part of me remained totally enthralled for decades on end and it still does. Call it the allure of the Far East? At the same time, I was also turning on to the Indian bansuri. Pandit Vijay Raghav Rao's magnificent playing changed something deep down inside. I can't put it into adequate words but it sent me to a place I love and wholly revere. The tonal quality of bamboo flutes had begun to seduce me into a more natural and pure musical direction.

In 1983 I bought my very first shakuhachi from Monty Levenson. A friend of mine who was a Bhagwan Ragneesh "Swami" had one of Monty's 1.8 and said it would take me weeks and weeks before being able to get a sound out of one. I picked it up and played it, although rather poorly. At the time, I really had no idea what a pentatonic scale was. Still, he couldn't believe it, as he had little to no musical ability. Despite that, he was an excellent potter. He thought I was a natural, even though I thought I sounded pretty raw. So at his urging and suggestion, I ordered one from Monty, as well as a quena. Sadly, both were to soon perish needlessly, as well as my favorite Indian bansuri... from the wrath of a hot wood stove. Living in Vermont is challenging and lots of places have wood burning stoves for heat. Being a dumb kid... I carelessly left them too close to the cranking stove and so... CRACK!!! Sigh, I foolishly chose to purchase another, less expensive shakuhachi from another, less aware maker (as it turns out, a very big mistake). Sad

Long story short, I struggled with the cheaper flute for the next 20 some years. It was just plain off key and the notes didn't fit together properly. The scale made no sense, compared to the shakuhachi I play now. I eventually threw it far into the deep woods behind my house, in sheer frustration! While I might think this the greatest pity, somehow I believe it is perfection unfolding before me. A year and a half ago I bought another shakuhachi, and a few others, etc... which has opened up the greatest romance of my life! Sure, I wish I had gotten more deeply involved 30 years ago. Still, I feel blessed to be able to awaken at this point in my life, to a new way of expressing myself musically. It's been such a rush!!! One day I hope to find a teacher. More so, I hope I can afford to pay for lessons, since I am currently under-employed these days (damn this recession).

That being said, the kindness of many of the advanced members of this fine group has lifted me into an inspired desire to grow in this art. It's far more than that, though, it has blossomed within me to shift my attention into a purely spiritual state of being. One which not only allows for me to find a new musical voyage to launch, it also teaches me a direct pathway into that profoundly simple, radiant effulgence of the One Note. Blowing Zen has become the most important activity I can practice, next to hatha yoga, taijiquan and sitting mediation. Tis a rare jewel to be cherished and cultivated in earnest! I can't think of a more powerful or transformative form of pranayama. Honestly, I still really suck at playing this sublime instrument... but as the the old colloquialism states, I sincerely hope my "heart is in the right place".

Thank you all for your knowledge, sharing, creativity and compassion. Okay
Music is the very breath of life.
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Joined: 22 Dec 2012
Posts: 26
Localisation: Aotearoa NZ

PostPosted: 2012-12-25, 01:07    Post subject: Tell your story Reply with quote

First it was that riff in Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer', then a track from an early 'dead Can Dance' album which made the General Midi sample sound sterile. Then one morning Tarchin was blowing this piece of bamboo and it had a sound of authenticity, like his heart was floating in the air.
It was a simple, non-root end Shakuhachi, very dark and shiny, I can almost hear it today. He had been given it to help him strengthen his lungs after pneumonia by a young girl who had been given it for the very same reason.
Two years later he purchased a great 2.1 from Monty and gave me the original flute. It was not easy to begin, sound other than swishing air was elusive and there were no buttons or switches to make it happen, I had to persist, and persist regularly. Eventually notes happened and I could even do a one-octave pentatonic scale in one breath !
Then someone gave me a Riley Lee mixed CD and I couldn't believe how long he was blowing sound but six months later I too was getting longer notes.
We don't have teachers here in Aotearoa New Zealand and as I have a 'Black' bamboo grove on my property my DIY took over and I began to craft flutes based on the one I had, with modest results and a feeling of some achievement. Then the Internet came to my rescue with the mailing list and the Barbecue Forum. My obstinance and arrogance got me through until the 2008 Sydney Festival was announced and we decided we had to take this opportunity to see what it was really all about.
And it was about many diverse personalities and perspectives coming together to share one thing we all had in common, a short length of bamboo.
To hear live playing by those masterful identities was both a joy and a revelation. I was taught the strength of breathing with the Hara and the power of silence.

Now a Shakuhachi travels with me everywhere I go and I blow it in every new ambience I discover. There have been so many delightful engagements that I am humbled by the extent this instrument can communicate with strangers, but not strangers as something we all deeply contemplate is aroused.

I thank the many directions of Shakuhachi for reminding me of the simplicity of being present Here and Now, to be with my breath as my Life unfolds.

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Joined: 03 Apr 2011
Posts: 28
Localisation: Australia

PostPosted: 2012-12-26, 01:41    Post subject: Story Reply with quote

How interesting - Thank you Smile

My short contribution - I will have been playing 3 years this coming January and in that short time have experienced 10 days with Kodama-san in Japan as well as a weekend harvesting with Okuda-Sensei. What amazing experiences these were with such beautiful people. That was at the end of my first year of inspirational Skype teachings with Chikuzen-Sensei whose teaching style as well as playing suit me perfectly. Now, another two years on and I have truly been bitten by everything about Shakuhachi. As a Buddhist it merges well with my practice in fact, it has become a part of my practice and I treat each time I pick up the Shakuhachi as a meditation and prayer opportunity as much as I can. I'm not always that mindful though I must be honest, but the wish is always there.

I first heard Shakuhachi - I don't know - but I do know that when I bought my first flute which was a South American Quena while in Argentina, it was the earthy, windy, natural sound of Bamboo emanating from the Shakuhachi that I had in mind. After several months of playing I knew that something was missing - It wasn't the Shakuhachi - It wasn't what I was looking for or was looking for me. And so, further web searches led me to Michael Gould and the rest is history and the present is writing itself out as I speak here. I now practice daily as much as possible and take every opportunity to play for others when asked. I find this a great opportunity in itself to let go of the ego that often gets wrapped up in aspects of my daily practice and playing. As a University academic by day (and night sometimes!!), to be closer to the roots of the instrument and music and teacher's teacher (if permitted), I am planning a Sabbatical in Japan for 2014 . In preparations I've been invited to Osaka this coming February to give a seminar and also to Tokyo later in the year. I've also started Japanese language lessons although homework often gets pushed aside in favor of time spent with Shakuhachi.

The future - Well, beyond the above outlined travels, even more of the same. Weekly lessons with Chikuzen-sensei and hopefully a visit to him in the USA in 2014 if not before. I'm excited by what lies ahead for as many years as I can feign my breath in to the Shakuhachi.

That's about it from me for now. So, may all your Shakuhachi dreams come true. Now to practice - I feel a Sagariha moment awaits.................Best wishes everyone for 2013. Dave
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Joined: 31 Mar 2011
Posts: 102
Localisation: Arizona, USA

PostPosted: 2012-12-28, 19:39    Post subject: Tell your story Reply with quote

I heard the sound of the shakuhachi on some CDs and had no idea what it was but knew I loved it. In 2005 after discovering this amazing sound was from a shakuhachi; my search was on! I found a beginner’s flute on the internet and also discovered there was a shakuhachi teacher in New York City. I had a lesson with Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin and from that day on, I have been hooked.

Then from the stand point of the shakuhachi I had a significant setback. November of 2005 I moved from the New York City area to a small town on the north side of Phoenix Arizona. I discovered that Arizona was a shakuhachi wasteland. Lessons using tapes or MP3 files just did not work for me, and I became a shakuhachi rōnin.

I threw energy into teaching myself. My only real training was started in 2006 at David Wheeler’s annual shakuhachi camp in Colorado (I’ve gone to everyone since then that was held in Colorado) . I collected every manual I could buy: I downloaded every fingering chart, notation and MP3 I could find.

Little by little the (metaphorical) clouds parted. I started to see the pieces of the shakuhachi puzzle fitting together. It has been seven years since I started playing the shakuhachi. I’m feeling pretty good about my playing now.

For the last two years, a group I started with Barbara Face called The Phoenix Shakuhachi Friends has been promoting the music of the shakuhachi here in the greater Phoenix area. Our goal is to get new players interested in the shakuhachi, get them though those initial tough times. From there if they’ve fallen in love with the shakuhachi, the wonders of Skype lessons can get, then instruction from real teachers.
Chuck Peck
Arizona, USA

Live the moment, be kind and be your self!
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