A Shakuhachi is a japanese bamboo flute. I first heard a recording of it (Sanctuary: Music from a Zen Garden) some years ago and I was really taken by it. I recently acquired a Shakuhachi and with it came much more.
For the first time in my life I am truly enjoying a musical instrument. As a child I played the piano but the strict discipline pushed my away from it after two years. Later in life when I was thinking about going to school again for my Masters degree, after reading through a university catalog – I went out and got a guitar. That didn’t work out either – my teacher filled me up with music theory but I wasn’t really enjoying my playing. The guitar (well actually – I had two since I also bought an electric) stayed with me for a few more years, in the beginning I would take it up once in a while, but as time went by it just sat there until I sold it.
When I first wished for the Shakuhachi I began with a search for a teacher. For me the Shakuhachi was (and still is) an instrument with qualities of meditation and I really wanted a teacher to usher me into it’s playing. I couldn’t find one (in Israel). I held off on buying the Shakuhachi until recently. I have no teacher, and the basic manual I have is not self-explanatory enough for me to learn the instrument’s music notation. So I am falling back to simply playing around with it and improvising – and I am having the time of my life. Sometimes I ply for a few minutes, other times I will play for an hour. If I feel any incorrect effort of frustration creeping in then I put it down and take it up again later. It’s a completely different musical experience for me.
Because I am improvising I am constantly discovering new things. Sometimes I have a wish to find some specific sound/technique that I read about – and though it usually takes time – but it is revealed to me. This is so different from learning – where I constantly “failing” to do what I have been taught until (hopefully) I “succeed”. I am really enjoying playing the Shakuachi. I even played it at one of the recent improvisation sessions I attended – and it was great fun.
Meetings: East & West, Past & Present
Though the Shakuhachi is a Japanese instrument I purchased mine from a maker in the USA from Monty Levenson. Monty is a special person – I have been communicating with him for two years (he tried to help me in my initial search for a teacher) and I have been visiting his website ever since. He lives in California in a special community. He has built everything from his home through to his website on his own. Through him I even learned that you can get bamboo flooring that (amongst other things) is environment friendly since bamboo renews itself every season (as opposed to hardwoods which take many years to grow).
It seems that hand made Shakuhachi from Japan (which was once the only source of Shakuhachi) were both notoriously expensive and when they were brought to the west – they would usually crack and become useless (bamboo does not appreciate climate changes). Monty’s innovation has challenged both of these issues. First he invented a technique he calls cast-bore technology to (1) digitally emulate the inner bore of a Shakuhachi by measuring with a laser some of the best flutes in the world and then (2) regenerate these bores with different levels of precision. This has enabled him to generate a range of instruments from simple meditation Shakuhachi (the one I ordered) to more advanced precision instruments through to classically hand-made ones. So now anyone can get their hands on a Shakuhachi. In addition Monty binds his flutes to prevent them from cracking when they travel the world.
When I hold the Shakuhachi I am inspired. Though it is a basic instrument I can see and feel the caring efforts that went into it. The instrument seems to embody so much life experience and knowledge that I feel is transmitted just by holding it.
Shortly after I received the Shakuhachi I met with a friend (and close relative) who wanted to get my opinion. He is a talented architect and teacher (a rare kind of teacher) and he was offered a job with great pay (which he really needs) and dire consequences – the greatest of which would have been having to give up his teaching. Our conversation went through several turns but the conclusion was a different approach to the opportunity – what seemed like a win-win solution for all involved – most importantly without him giving up his teaching. He was really happy with the solution (for the record – it didn’t work out, the second business party rejected the offer).
On the way to his car he thanked me for helping him see ‘outside the box’ and asked me if I can offer him any advice on how he can give his children the skills needed to see things from different perspectives. I said to him that I honestly don’t think there is anything he can do other than to do this by himself for himself – and that they will either pick up on it or not. Then as he got in his car I asked him to wait – I ran back into the house and got the Shakuhachi and showed it to him. I said to him that this is how I do it – I try to bring into my life things that inspire me.
Inspiration is a key that seems to work for me time after time. The Shakuhachi is another tool of inspiration I am thankful to have with me. Playing it for a few minutes does wonders for me.