Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How it began

I do not come from a musical background. Although I play some guitar, ukulele, mountain dulcimer and sing, I have not had any real musical training. Music however, is a big part of my life. I don't just hear it, I feel it. I love it. I sing to the world and world sings back.

I was introduced to the shakuhachi by my friend Walter Murray Lobb in 2008. I only knew Walt for a year, but he and I shared a lot of interests. I met Walt at my Aikido dojo. I was a brown belt then and Walt was a black belt who knew my teacher and was getting back into the art. We were both school teachers and both had an interest in Japanese culture.

During the year I knew Walt, he retired from teaching and was looking to shake up his life a bit. He decided to move from Ontario to British Columbia (Central to Western Canada). He did not want to bring a lot of his old stuff with him, so before he left he gave me a bunch of albums and a bamboo shakuhachi in a cloth bag.

I couldn't get it to make a sound, but it looked cool, so I put it on a sword stand in my mediation room. And there it sat; a reflection of the amount of thought I was giving it. Walt moved away and began his retirement that fall. Then, on January 1st, 2009 Walt committed suicide.

I don't know much about what happened, and I have had to rely on some friends who live out there who did not really know Walt, but some told me that he had been suffering psychologically. I can't know this for sure, but I know he was a kind and gentle man.

After Walt's death, a dark haze formed for me around that shakuhachi. Walt and I shared a lot of interests. For me, the things we had in common were very nourishing. These are some of the parts of my life that feed my spirit and help me to see the world as an open and free playground (even though the sand box is often wet and full of cat poop). It was sad to think that the same experiences that fed me, did not help to sate his needs or sense of seeking. However, the details and truths of Walt's life and struggles are largely unknown to me, so I can't really put too much weight into any thought about the traditional questions of why he is gone. Regardless, I miss him and am saddened by his loss.

At some point I developed a feeling that I needed to learn to play Walt's shakuhachi. I didn't even know if it could be played. In a spiritual and intuitive (rather than logical) way, I wanted to play that instrument to heal Walt. Yes, time is linear, and that does not make logical sense, but to my heart it is as clear as the breaking dawn. As well, in setting the intention to play; an intention that came from the gift and the tragedy; Walt's impact on my life became much greater than that suggested by the amount of the time I knew him.

I took the shakuhachi to my Zen teacher, Jay Rinsen Weik, at the Toledo Zen Center. Rinsen plays and has taken lessons with Michael Chikuzen Gould. He took it, played a few notes, handed it back and said "yeah it's good". Taking it from him, I played Ro and got my first clear sound. (yeah, I know, zen magic! lol)

I dug around on the internet, found some stuff, joined shakuhachi BBQ, built some PVC versions and took a lesson via Skype with Michael Chikuzen Gould.

I also did some research into my "new" instrument. It turned out that my shakuhachi is a 2.1 student shakuhachi, made by Monty Levenson. Based on my conversations with him, it is likely that it was built in the early to mid 1970's. Although it is well bound, I consider it a testimony to Mr. Levenson's work that it is in excellent condition, even though it was not properly stored or cared for (possibly) up to 35 years.

That is pretty much the story so far. As I type this, Christmas is approaching and I will soon be playing a shakuhachi yuu and working from some new instructional materials. Regular lessons would be great, but it does not fit financially into my life right now. So although I can't give this process a lot of money right now, I can give it time.

I am playing each day. Working on technique, reviewing my notes from my one online lesson, and trying my best to learn rhythm and notation.

As a beginning player, I am not blogging to instruct. I know I am diving into a very large and unfamiliar ocean. I hope that maintaining this blog will be part of my motivation for playing. With time, effort and sincere intention, maybe something beautiful will grow from Walt's gift. If fortune is kind, it might even seed itself.

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