Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Holding Pattern

I found it kind of funny to look at my last post, from last year and to see how accurate it still is.  Currently I am starting to play more often.  In part it is because I am using Shakuhachi for art practice and Ango has begun, partly because I am writing an original piece for Walt, on the shakuhachi that he gave me.  I plan to play it at an upcoming poetry night in which my wife and I are the feature performers.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Old Beginnings

I'll be honest; it has been some time since I practiced regularly. My last regular lesson with Michael was in June, and after I got back from the monastery, I wasn't playing that much. I did play shakuhachi as part of the Zen Arts Ensemble with theToledo Zen Center in October. We performed at the Toledo Museum of Art and it was beautiful.

A number of things are coming around these days that are pulling me back to spend more time with the shakuhachi...

Although Christmas and New Years are often the peak of family get-togethers for the year, I take much of my seasonal joy from moments of quiet introspection. I guess it is my favorite part about winter. The world can become very quiet. That silence draws me back to the shakuhachi. When I am playing, the silences and in-breaths are as much of the moment as the notes, both hit and missed.

I have felt scrapped thin lately. Shakuhachi is a spiritually nourishing practice, and I need some of that right now.

My Zen community will be conducting its first Ango this winter. I don't know if art practice will be a part of it, but I will be making it part of my efforts.


We are just finishing our recovery from flood damage in our basement from this past summer, and I have not found my Shoden Level 1 book, but I had some PDF's in my lesson book and I sat down to play today.

My breath is short, but it always was. It will take work. I don't expect to be where I left off, and I have not tested the full range I was working on last spring, but I was able to play my first 6 folk tunes with ease. I didn't miss any notes, but some parts were not as full as they could be and I am sure I was a little flat.

I keep good notes from my lessons, so I'll start there. In the new year I plan to start up lessons again with Michael on Skype.

My holiday project will be to record the songs I wrote this past year.

Here's to a wonderful holiday season.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Still Here

For those who may have been checking in, I am still here.  From August to mid October has been very challenging and I have been playing very little. (and hardly practicing at all).

torn calf
flooded basement
slow rennovations
difficult school year
blah blah blah

I am not done, nor giving up.  Energies have just been redirected lately.  I will be returning to lessons with Michael Gould shortly, and still plan to record my compositions from the summer. 

With so many balls int he air, it is hard to say exactly when this one will be in my hand.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Art Practice

I just got back from a month-long residency at Zen Mountain Monastery.  I did not have a lot of time to practice, but I did manage to spend some time in art practice doing some composition.

Over the next couple of weeks, I intend to record the two pieces that I wrote.

I began writing "Mountain Thunderstorm" during a thunderstorm while I sat in a cabin up the hill from the monastery.  The first few phrases grew out a call and answer that developed between me and the weather.

A few weeks later I wrote Hosan (during hosan).  Hosan is the "weekend" of the residential community at ZMM.  For 48 hours each week, the regular training schedule is suspended and each person determines how to spend their time and engage their practice.  There are specific rhythms at the start, middle and end of these days.  I sat with my experiences of these times and just let it come through.  This was challenging as most of the song is in Kan, and with less practice during the month, my stability in Kan is a bit off.

Now I settle back into regular practice as I begin to get ready to return to work and deal with some minor flood damage in my basement.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I had another lesson with Michael tonight.  Side note:  being steeped in Japanese martial and Zen traditions, I don't know if I should call Michael by his name.  The dude is a Dai Shihan after all.  It is a strange thing in the West.  I have just as often run into people who avoid title as I have those who would be offended if they are not used.  Sometimes, I have encountered both perspectives from the same person.  Either way, he is my teacher, I am greatly appreciative of the time he takes to guide me.

Back on topic...

I know I have to practice more, but things are going well.  I am starting to use meri notes with both shading and half holing in more and more songs.  I am able to most of the tings he has me try, but I can sense that it would be even more productive if I had a lesson in person.  (someday)

We looked a bit at Etenraku but then began working on a honkyoku piece called Sanson no Yugure (Mt. Village at Dusk).

I echoed hom phrase by phrase.  In each phrase we stopped and discussed some of the unique stylistic elements that are not captured in the score.  It involved trills, vibrato, and other notations.  This is clearly something that would be ridiculous to try to learn properly without one on one guidance.

What is especially interesting are the notations in some of the phrases.  Rather than describing a technical detail, some describe a physical scene, or a moment in time that the phrase is trying to embody.  It is a very different approach to both playing and learning.

Since this was not on my usual lesson night, I have less than 2 weeks before I work with Michael again.

Practice practice.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nothing Extraordinary

There is something happening in my shakuhachi playing and practice that feels very good lately.  Playing and taking lessons with Chikuzen has, in one way, become very ordinary.  I don't mean that I see nothing special in it, but rather that this instrument and this music is less and less soemthing new and exotic that I am doing.  More and more it is a part of my life and the life of my family.  There is a comfort and familiarity that allows for a natural focus on what I am doing. 

Lessons of late have focussed on stability and range.  Michael has been helping me tweek the position of the shakuhachi on my chin so that I get a fuller tone and so higher notes (and meri's) done get caught on the blowing edge.  I am after drills and warm ups, I am focussing much of my playing on parts 1, 2, and 4 of Etenraku Celebration Melody.

I have also been spending some time on the porch in the early morning with my Shakuhachi Yuu, a tea and the birds.  I sit quietly with birds and my tea for a time,a nd them I play call and answer with the different birds in my neighbourhood.  I try to match them, or play off of them, responding to what they give me.  It is a beautiful practice that has me jumping all over the place on the instrument as new birds come and go.

I highly recommend it.