What is A Shakuhachi?
Introduced from China to Japan during the Tang Dynasty, the Shakuhachi is an end-blow flute made from Madake Bamboo. It was reinvigorated later by monks in the Fuke school of Zen Buddhism; it served the purpose of suizen (吹禅) or blowing meditation.
Why Shakuhachi and Japanese Music?
Japanese culture has motivated my intellectual curiosity and informed my aesthetic sensibility for as long as I can remember. I recall seeing Japanese characters for the first time at the age of 5 and being fascinated with their beauty and mystery. My desire to figure out what those thin and thick, curving and precise lines meant was slowly fulfilled through formal language courses and private tutoring. My parents helped me explore Japanese culture and traditions as a child through martial arts classes, and I read voraciously into every source I could find about Asia.
My love of Japanese culture developed alongside my musical abilities, repertoire, and grew to be intertwined in my mind and career. When I started composing at the age of 15, I researched the musics of Korea, China, and Japan and found myself ever-more fascinated with Japanese music, which, to me seemed to affect a uniquely immersive experience through unique narrative structures, their use of time,and coloring. A combined sense of immersion,of mindfulness, and a slowing down of time, is a feeling that is deeply interconnected with the core of Japanese culture and tradition, not only in music, but also in the arts and humanities more broadly. As I developed my Japanese musical repertoire and continue refining my Japanese language skills, I only became more curious about what it might look like to combine elements of Japanese music with my Western roots in a way that remains authentic to both traditions.
As I continue to develop my own individual voice and infuse Japanese tradition, I have been privileged to study at one of the best music schools in the world,The Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM). I chose CIM to act as a conduit for my education for the opportunities to have my compositions played by some of the most talented up and coming musicians in the world, but also for the proximity of CIM to Case Western Reserve University, where I’ve been privileged to forge relationships with professors of Asian studies, and to the Cleveland Museum of Art, where I’ve reached out to curators of the Asian exhibits and expanded my knowledge of and familiarity with Japanese arts. It is always an enormous privilege to work with such talented peers and instructors and moreover, CIM is ripe with opportunities for professionalization. Even so, from the beginning, I wanted to pursue my love of Japanese music with the eventual goal of creating a blended genre that as yet does not exist.
Although there have certainly been attempts to bring Japanese music into Western composition, by no means is there a canon of repertoire readily available to musicians. My unique background, which includes an ever increasing knowledge in Japanese language, traditions, and culture, along with classical Western musical training, a record of accomplishment in composition and performance,and playing knowledge of more than one traditional Japanese instrument, along with a respectful intellectual curiosity, fits me for the task of creating such a blended genre with authenticity and without cultural appropriation.
As global communication becomes increasingly apparent, it is our job as artists to reinvigorate old ideas and render new mediums of artistic expression that reflect a world-wide view. I emphasize the possibilities and coherence between Eastern and Western ideas; mixing the aesthetics and sensibilities of Japanese music with a Western musical framework. During the common practice era (1600 - 1900), western music was defined by its emphasis on harmonic and melodic structures. Japanese music followed its own musical practices and remained separate from the western world. It wasn't until the late 19th, early 20th century when some musical cultures began to form a small crossover. Today there is a new culture of musicians and artist alike blurring the lines of culture and in turn bringing our world closer together. We are now beginning to break individualistic and ethnocentric views. The purpose of this endeavor is to render a new musical genre that bridges the two distant and distinct cultures in harmonious way. Shakuhachi, for me, is acting as a passport into Japanese aesthetic which will help render an authentic immersion of these two artistic views.
Currently, I use folk songs and other traditional Japanese music as the DNA for my compositions, with the goal of creating a style that has a recognizably Japanese character. The genre I seek to create will bridge the two long and distinct traditions in which I have been privileged to take part. I seek to create a music that is built on harmonic structures familiar to Western tradition as well as atmospheres and coloring familiar to Japanese tradition.To do so, I've invented my own scales, essentially my own musical language,without which, authentic genre blending is not possible. Many of my materials also come from traditional Buddhist and Shinto Music i.e. Gagaku, Noh-Gaku, Shakuhachi Koten Honkyoku, and Kabuki. Although my efforts to date have certainly been encouraging, I have much to learn in order to bring Japanese tradition and Western classical tradition together in a respectful manner, a manner in which both Westerners and Japanese can have a familiar and new experience at the same time.