With an active career as a shakuhachi soloist (Japanese bamboo flute), chamber musician, recording artist, composer, and lecturer, Shawn Renzoh Head is at the forefront of Japanese traditional music and its expansion into the western world. His dedication and sincerity for the shakuhachi has been transcending borders through the commissioning of new works and performances on a multitude of mediums. A musician of meticulousness, appetite for the new, and panache, Head is committed to the shakuhachi as a vehicle of transcendental capabilities.
Head is aware that as global communication becomes increasingly apparent, it is the artists job to reinvigorate old ideas and render new mediums of artistic expression that reflect a world-wide view. Head emphasizes the possibilities and coherence between Eastern and Western ideas; mixing the aesthetics and sensibilities of Japanese music with a Western musical framework. For Head, Shakuhachi is acting as a passport into Japanese aesthetic, which will help produce an authentic immersion of these two artistic perspectives. Committed to innovative ways of expanding classical music’s social and cultural impact, Head has collaborated with various artists and organizations across a host of genres. His current collaborations are with The Path of Tea Houston, Westheimer String Quartet, Francis Fenton (soprano), Susanna Campbell (harpist of Shoso Duo), members of the Houston Symphony, members of the Houston Grand Opera, and other top tier soloist and chamber musicians around the world. Shawn is the founding member of the Shoso Duo, which is in partnership with co-founder harpist Susanna Campbell. In addition to these, Shawn has an open call for collaboration with composers that actively runs all year.
Born in St. Charles, Missouri, Head began formal music education at the age of 10 when he started on viola. Through his education in classical music, Shawn was also introduced to composition and began composing for ensembles in his area at 15. Within the next year, Shawn had his music performed throughout America and Europe. At age 18, Shawn discovered and found his passion for the Shakuhachi while traveling throughout Asia. In the years following, Shawn became the youngest non-Japanese Shakuhachi Shihan (master) in history. Shawn earned his Shihan degree under the tutelage of Michael Chikuzen Gould. In 2019, Shawn received the distinct honor of becoming an OSS 大将軍 Tai Shogun, given to him for his work in traditional Japanese music by Ronald Watt 9th Dan Shotokan Karate and Order of the Rising Sun (Japan’s top civilian award). Head also earned a bachelor's degree in composition from the prestigious conservatory, the Cleveland Institute of Music, under Professor Keith Fitch and Professor Steven Kohn. Shawn is currently based in Houston, Texas. Head performs on eight flutes specifically crafted for him by the revered flute maker, Yozan Hikichi.
As a composer, Shawn has made a substantial output of music that reflects the complex aesthetics of Japanese Music. His recent composition, “Burning Roots Sketch No. 4,” commissioned by violinist, Misha Vayman, is an example of the connection between his western roots and Japanese sounds. Vayman says that Shawn’s music is "A deeply felt Japanese sentiment structured with a virtuosic western filigree." Other performers have said, "When playing Shawn's music, I need to open my musical perspective to colors, techniques, and tonalities I don't get to use often while playing western repertoire."-Leah Stevens, flutist. His current compositional project is to compose a concerto for Shakuhachi and Orchestra, commissioned by the Energy Corridor Houston Orchestra, (ECHO).
In 2016, Shawn released his first CD titled “Fourteen Roei,” featuring soprano Naomi Columna. This fifteen-track album features ancient Japanese and Chinese text for soprano and shakuhachi. It has been revered by Japanese listeners and deemed a “reconstructed masterpiece of Classical Japanese Poetry.” Kazuaki Uekawa. He was also featured in violinist, Aija Izaks CD “Teksasys Latgalisi.” The CD won the cultural Bonkus prize in Latvia in 2018. Shawn’s next CD is in progress, which features new works by composers around the world.
Head is aware that as global communication becomes increasingly apparent, it is the artists job to reinvigorate old ideas and render new mediums of artistic expression that reflect a world-wide view. Head emphasizes the possibilities and coherence between Eastern and Western ideas; mixing the aesthetics and sensibilities of Japanese music with a Western musical framework. For Head, Shakuhachi is acting as a passport into Japanese aesthetic, which will help produce an authentic immersion of these two artistic perspectives. Committed to innovative ways of expanding classical music’s social and cultural impact, Head has collaborated with various artists and organizations across a host of genres. His current collaborations are with The Path of Tea Houston, Westheimer String Quartet, Francis Fenton (soprano), Susanna Campbell (harpist of Shoso Duo), members of the Houston Symphony, members of the Houston Grand Opera, and other top tier soloist and chamber musicians around the world. Shawn is the founding member of the Shoso Duo, which is in partnership with co-founder harpist Susanna Campbell.
As a soloist, Head has made it his goal to popularize the shakuhachi, both in its traditional form and a modern western form by commissioning a plethora of composers to write engaging music. Recently, he has commissioned composers: Hsin-Jung Tsai, Bo Li, David Vayo, Eric Charnofsky, and others. He aims to commission and perform twenty new works by the year 2020.
Head advocates for music as an essential educational tool, as both a way for classical music to find diverse audiences and to deepen his audience’s connection to the art. He maintains active involvement with Young Audience Houston, which provide instruments and arts education to children who may not otherwise be able to experience classical music firsthand. This year, Head developed a new program with Young Audiences Houston to introduce children to Japanese music by utilizing the things they know in love including: Anime, Manga, food, and historical stories that inspire kids to dig deeper into Japanese musical history.
He has also made it a point to lecture as often as he can at a variety of schools such as: Ball State University, The Ohio State University, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the University of Kansas City Missouri, Lone Star Colleges , and Taiwan National University of Arts, among others. Shawn recently composed and premiered an original composition titled “And It Was Just As I Heard” for shakuhachi and chamber orchestra commissioned by Brian P. Herrington of Cypress Lonestar College. "When I invited Shawn Renzoh Head to work with our orchestra in the premiere of his new concerto, my goal was to excite the students about new music and inspire our audience: Shawn Renzoh Head exceeded all of those aims. Performing with Shawn was a magical experience for me as a conductor, and our orchestral students were clearly captivated. The response from the audience was overwhelming. Shawn opened up new worlds for our students as he engaged them with charm and a generous spirit.” Brian P. Herrington, Ph.D.
shakuhachi master Shawn Renzoh Head and harpist Susanna Campbell met at Retrospect Coffee Bar to discuss a concert collaboration. Fusing the eastern music and culture of the Japanese flute with the western aesthetic of the modern pedal harp appealed to both artists and a new musical initiative was born. Shoso Duo gave their debut performance on February 24, 2018 at Campbell Learning Center in Houston, TX. This concert was followed up with a repeat performance at the International Christian Church of Houston on May 21, 2018, and two additional concerts are scheduled for summer 2018. Shoso Duo hopes to promote the harp and shakuhachi at home and abroad as viable instruments for all to enjoy and for anyone with a passion for music to learn how to play.
Susanna Campbell is a passionate and experienced music educator and performer based in Houston, Texas. Recent concert highlights include the world premiere of Gary Schocker’s Heaven’s Above for the American Harp Society’s National Conference in Atlanta, the debut concert of the New Houston Harp Ensemble, and performances with AURORA – a harp, flute, and cello ensemble embracing classical repertoire while championing contemporary music by emerging composers. Susanna is principal harpist with the the Round Rock Symphony and Houston Civic Symphony. In addition to performing, she maintains a private harp and piano studio and takes great delight in training and mentoring young musicians. Susanna also teaches music classes at Lone Star College, is on faculty at the Houston Summer Harp Festival, and is music director at King's Cross in Cypress, Texas. She holds a Master's Degree in Harp Performance from Stephen F. State University where she studied with Ms. Emily Mitchell.
Shawn visited the Schwob School of Music in March 2019. He presented to both the flute and composition studios, as well as to the entire student body. Additionally, Shawn and I performed a recital together, featuring his compositions. As a collaborator, Shawn has a professional yet easy-going demeanor that allowed our rehearsals and performance to be enjoyable and successful. As a presenter, he was engaging and funny, allowing for interesting and informative lectures. As a composer, Shawn displays a maturity beyond his years, and I truly enjoy the pieces he has composed for me. After our recital, I received many compliments from audience members as to the refreshing programming of Shawn's compositions and the unique experience Shawn’s beautiful shakuhachi playing offered. I look forward to our next collaboration.
Katrin Meidell, DMA
Assistant Professor of Viola
Schwob School of Music
Columbus State University
Board Member, American Viola Society
Shawn Head is a master musician/composer. His music tells stories through the traditional beautiful instrument made of a bamboo with craftsmanship. Shawn puts life into it through rich expressions and technical sophistication. The diverse tone he creates is nothing like performers of other modern instruments. His vibrato, deep resonance, and slow and quick legato runs seem coming from deep inside his whole body. Shakuhachi only has five holes, but seeing Shawn on stage or in videos allows one to observe how the performer’s whole being are affecting the tone. As I listen to Shawn’s music with my eyes closed, I hear sounds of nature: sound of wind blowing, leaves falling, birds twittering away, and animals’ howling. My favorite is Shawn’s masterpiece, Fourteen Roei, which is Shawn’s musical interpretation of Japanese classical poems. Fourteen Roei reflects Shawn’s deep appreciation of Japanese culture and its ancient past. It reflects passion and respect Shawn holds for Japanese art, history, and people. Shawn seems pushing the boundary of musical possibilities through a deceptively simple instrument that is allowing him to tell stories though music.
Kazuaki Uekawa, Ph.D
Author of Eigo Nodo, expert in Japanese and English language translation and pronunciation.
Shawn is a charasmatic and passionate musician. His knowledge and background in classical music is vast, spanning both violin and viola repertoire. He is also a gifted composer and his music draws from an eclectic variety of sources and is always musically interesting and rewarding to perform. Additionally, he is a master traditional Japanese flute (Shakuhachi) artist and has delighted and amazed audiences all over the world in that capacity.
Violin Soloist, Educator
It was a real pleasure to have Shawn Head present a recital and speak with our students during his recent trip to Butler University’s School of Music. The students were quite taken with his performance and were fully engaged when he was able to discuss his music and take questions in an open forum. He also gave masterclasses for the flute and composition studios. Hearing the shakuhachi was a new and fascinating experience for many of our students.
Director – School of Music
Professor of Bass
Shawn Head visited Illinois Wesleyan University this February as a featured guest of IWU’s New Music Series, which I direct. While on campus, Mr. Head gave a presentation on his instrument to music composition and woodwind students, and performed a concert which included traditional Japanese music, his own compositions, and free improvisations.
Mr. Head’s presentation was full of useful historical, cultural and practical information on his instrument, as well as live demonstrations of the shakuhachi’s techniques and characteristics. An engaging speaker, he connected well with the students. At the concert, Mr. Head gave accomplished and deeply expressive renditions of his own impressive compositions as well as traditional repertoire. As his partner in the free improvisations, I was impressed with his ability to muster his considerable creativity and technique instantaneously to support the ongoing musical drama. When improvising with others, I always hope for situations in which it feels like s single musical intelligence is directing both performers, and this was very much the case in that evening’s musical explorations.
Fern Rosetta Sherff Professor of Composition and Theory
Illinois Wesleyan Univeristy
Shawn is a dedicated musician and instructor He has a great ear, and can hear right away what I'm doing so our lessons always feel engaged and personal. He keeps it challenging so I'm always motivated to excel and since I can easily review the recorded lessons, the Skype lesson format is very effective. As a result not only have I improved more quickly than I thought possible I'm playing music I really love. I definitely recommend taking lessons from Shawn.
Current Shakuhachi Student
When I invited Shawn Renzoh Head to work with our orchestra in the premiere of his new concerto, my goal was to excite the students about new music and inspire our audience: Shawn Renzoh Head exceeded all of those aims. Performing with Shawn was a magical experience for me as a conductor, and our orchestral students were clearly captivated. The response from the audience was overwhelming. Shawn opened up new worlds for our students as he engaged them with charm and a generous spirit.
Brian P. Herrington, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Music and Director of the Symphony Orchestra, Music Theory Coordinator, Lone Star College-CyFair
Shawn’s dedication to the promotion of the shakuhachi and its particular characteristics, along with his unwavering support of new music and its practitioners, are to be greatly admired. In, 2018, he commissioned me to write a solo shakuhachi piece, combining modern western aesthetics with this prominent Japanese instrument. His tutorials on how to write for it were extremely helpful and clear, and his obvious devotion to the music he has premiered is inspiring. I am grateful to Shawn as he continues to perform my piece nationally and internationally, and I respect his commitment to bridging eastern and western musical traditions.
Case Western Reserve University Instructor, Pianist and Composer
Shawn Renzoh Head's Spring 2019 workshop at our flute studio at Butler University was illuminating, enlightening, and downright inspiring. My students and I were in awe of his command of the Shakuhachi flute as he performed traditional and original compositions for us. His description of his own journey into studying the Shakuhachi flute encouraged my students to think "outside the box" and explore entirely new creative avenues. After exploring Mr. Head's innovative yet hauntingly beautiful original compositions, we are planning on commissioning a new work for our flute choir. Indeed, his visit was the highlight of our year.
Karen Evans Moratz
Principal flutist of Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Artist in Residence at Butler University, and Author of Flute for Dummies.
"It was enlightening to see Shawn perform Shakuhachi at Kent State University for the 2015 Annual Meeting of Ohio Association of Teachers of Japanese. He has great passion for Shakuhachi tradition and is determined to introduce it to the US audience. We were all moved by his quiet but strong will. He will be a great asset for Japanese music tradition. Meeting a young person like Shawn is a great joy for all of us in the field of Japanese language and culture education."
Ph.D., Associate Professor of Japanese, The University of Findlay; President, Ohio Association of Teachers of Japanese
Mr. Shawn Head did a wonderful job explaining Japanese aesthetics terms to a general audience. He was also good at getting students to participate in the lecture. His lecture was informative and entertaining. We all really enjoyed his lecture and admired his passion and knowledge.
PhD Candidate Modern Japanese Literature Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures
Shawn’s music is a deeply felt Japanese sentiment structured with a virtuosic western filigree.
Critically Accalimed soloist and chamber musician
Shawn Head presented a fascinating lecture on Japanese musical notation and Japanese flute music for my sophomore Music Theory class. I was impressed with his ability to convey the subtle details of the music on his Japanese flute. The students found his presentation to be quite engaging and enjoyed it very much. I did as well!
Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve University Music Theory faculty.
Shawn is a dedicated and creative professional who filled his role at Benefic Chamber Music Champ admirably, presenting on the topics of composition and improvisation. The students responded with enthusiasm and confidence, rating their time with him as one of the high points of BCMC.
Artistic Director of Benefic Chamber Music Camp, Associate Violin Professor at Ball State University.
Shawn Head's performance of Shakuhachi music during our recent Classical Revolution Cleveland show was truly stunning. His technical and musical command of the instrument were stunning, and the repertoire performed was captivating. It was the first time CRC has incorporated music from that genre in our shows, and it was eye-opening. We hope to have him back soon!
Ariel Clayton Karas
Director, Classical Revolution Cleveland