Japanese Gardens

May 23, 2010

The Japanese Gardens at the Irish National Stud is celebrating 100 years in 2010. Junshi Murakami and I were invited to play at the tree-planting ceremony by the Ireland Japan Association.

Experience Japan

April 27, 2010


Ireland held its’ first “Experience Japan Day” at Farmleigh House in Dublin. It was organised by UCD, OPW and a group of dedicated volunteers. Junshi Murakami (Irish harp) and I played a number of Japanese folk tunes to fit in with this cherry blossom festival or hanami.

The ‘Festival of World Cultures’ 2009 took place in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin on August 29 and 30. I was involved in three events. The first was the ‘Mela’ in the Peoples’ Park. It involved a group of musicians from various Asian cultures jamming in a tent. The other musicians included The Bahh Band, a group from Nepal (Hiralal and Ramji Gaine) and various Indian instruments such as mridangam (Koushik Chandrashekar) and sitar (Dara O’Brien). We had no rehearsal but managed to entertain.

The second event was the launch of a collection of haiku by the Irish poet Gabriel Rosenstock. I played a short collection of Irish and Japanese melodies on shakuhachi with Junshi Murakami on Irish harp. Junshi and I were busy again at the Cool Earth Eco Fair in which we played a longer set in the County Hall.

At this event, I was fortunate to met Utsav Lal, the 17-year old “Raga Pianist”. I was invited to join him along with Koushik, Dave Sheridan on Irish flute and Rohan Kapadia on tabla in a performance. It took place in the National Concert Hall, Dublin on September 8. We decided to follow the example of Ravi Shankar and Hozan Yamamoto’s collaboration in a version of ‘Rokudan’.

The 2009 European Shakuhachi Summer School was held in Leiden, Holland from July 22-26. It was organised by the Dutch Shakuhachi Society, Kaito under the leadership of Kees Kort. Leiden is celebrating 400 years of trade relations with Japan with a year-long festival of events including the Shakuhachi Summer School. The performers included Yoshi Kurahashi, Gunnar Linder, Steve Cohn, Vlatislav Matousek, Peter Hill, Tilo Burdock and Kees Kort. I spent a couple of days before the event in crowded Amsterdam and found Lieden a beautiful and peaceful location for a summer school.

The workshops I attended include ‘Takiotoshi no Kyoku’ taught by Gunnar Linder, Yoshio Kurahashi’s interesting interpretation of ‘Mukaiji‘ and Tilo Burdock teaching ‘Soe’ by his teacher Nishimura Koku.

A unique focus of the summer school was improvisation. This was lead by Steve Cohn. His workshops helped everyone listen and interact to the playing of others with a new perspective. Vlastislav Matousek’s compositions also contain an element of improvisation. I was honoured to perform with Vlasislav Matousek and his three daughters in a performance of his composition ‘Roma Tibi‘.

The evening concerts included performances by the teachers of the pieces taught in the workshops. There were also very entertaining performances by some leading Dutch improvisers with Steve Cohn. The summer school also included a number of talks and performances at the Ethnological Museum in Leiden which has an impressive collection of Japanese art and antiquities. The final concert contained a performance by the superb Belgian taiko group ‘Tatake’.

National Theatre, London

September 16, 2008

I recently played in a concert at the National Theatre, London with the group ‘Haru Ichiban.’ The programme consisted of some sankyoku, arrangements of Japanese folk tunes and some shinkyoku such as ‘Haru no Umi’ by Miyagi Michiyo. The group is led by the koto and shamisen player, Rie Yanagawa. The maiko dancer Akiko Kobayashi was the star of the performance.

The following are some of my highlights of the festival. I missed the opening concert so my first encounter was on stage for the S-1 Grand Prix (the ‘S’ for shakuhachi replaces the ‘F’ for Formula 1). It was a fantastic experience playing in front of some of the best shakuhachi players and meeting the other participants. The winner was the 17-year old Chozan Imoto from Japan.

The mornings contained presentations and performances by the special guest performers, Reibo Aoki II, Junsuke Kawase III and Kodo Araki V. Reibo Aoki II taught “Ajikan” along with entertaining anecdotes. Junsuke Kawase III gave a fascinating presentation on “Qigong and the shakuhachi”. Araki Kodo V gave a detailed lecture about “Timbral Travels with meri-kari”. Kohachiro Miyata also gave a performance/lecture on the 7-hole shakuhachi.

The afternoons consisted of a wide variety of workshop presentations. On the first day, I attended an interesting lecture on historical shakuhachi by Zenpo Simura. This was an opportunity to reflect on the zen verses instrument debate. Is the shakuhachi a tool of zen or a musical instrument? What did the komuso sound like based on what we know about the bamboo they blew? Simura argued that the jinashi shakuhachi is more conducive to meditation and suizen than the modern instrument. However, I was left feeling that it was not so much the instrument but the blower and the mind frame at the time of blowing that mattered. Jim Franklin’s workshop on “Composing/performing with live electronics” was fascinating. Tom Hare from Princeton University gave an entertaining lecture on the “Historical Perspectives on Zen and the Shakuhachi” with his own provocative translations of Ikkyu’s poetry related to shakuhachi.

There was always lively debate and great sounds from the makers corner. Here gathered John Neptune, Justin Williams, Peter Hill and other leading Japanese makers. I was very happy with the interest in my Celtic honkyoku scores and CD. I also got the opportunity to perform some Irish tunes in the open-mic session. This session contained many gems including a unique arrangement of “Shika no tone” and finished with Riley’s performance of “Waltzing Matilda”.

The afternoon concerts contained many gems. Foremost of these for me was Brian Richie’s performance of a John Coltrane number “Living Space” with Jim Moginie (guitar, from Midnight Oil) and his brother Sam (percussion). On the first day, we were treated to a concert which featured versions of “Tsuru no Sugomori” of which the performances by Komei Takemura and Shodo Sakai were breath taking. Jim Nyoraku Schlefer gave a blistering rendition of Sawai’s “Jogen no Kyoku” on the final day. There was also a brilliant execution of Yamamoto Hozan’s duet “Take” by the Tanabe brothers. Martha Fabrique and Veronique Piron performed with panache the dynamic duet “Synchrony” by Yoshihisa Taira for shakuhachi and flute. There was a special concert of compositions by the shakuhachi player and composer, Marty Regan. Vlastislav Matousek’s performance of the Fuke version of “Shika no tone” was for me a performance that captured the essence of suizen.

The evening concerts were superbly programmed. There was an excellent balance of the familiar and the bizarre, the old and the new. I was happy to join in the participants ensemble in a performance of ‘Hamasaki Yama’, composed and directed by Miyata Kohachiro. The surprise in the Saturday evening concert was Yoshio Kurahashi’s performance of “Shakedown for shakuhachi and tape” by Matthew Hindson. The highlight for me was the final concert. Kifu Mitsuhashi’s performance of “Piece for Shakuhachi solo” by Harue Kondou was outstanding, more than making up for his slight memory lapse in an earlier concert. I had never seen Nakamura performing live until the final concert. He played a contemporary piece with string quartet and tape. It did highlight his amazing breath control but I felt his sound was drowned out by the strings. The final concert also contained a tour de force performance of a Fukuda Rando trio with Matama, Furuya and Kakizakai. The festival finished in style with a cruise around Sydney Harbour complete with sake closing ceremony.

The Kerry gig

June 24, 2008

On June 20, Junshi Murakami (Irish harp) and I teamed up with Bill Dowdall (concert flute) for a concert of Irish and Japanese music in Kilorglin, County Kerry. The Irish melodies included favourites such as the Derry Air, O’Carolin’s Concerto and The Last Rose of Summer. Japanese melodies included Hana, Kojo no tsuki and Takeda no komoriuta.

The photos are of nearby Killarney and Muckross House.

Coach House Concert

December 11, 2007

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Ireland, the Ambassador of Japan, Mr. Keiichi Hayashi organised a concert, “A Celebration of the Musical Links between Japan and Ireland.” The performers were Mr William Dowdall (flute), Mr John Feeley (guitar), Mr Philip Horan (shakuhachi) and Mr Junshi Murakami (Irish harp). This concert was presented by the Ireland Japan Association and The Embassy of Japan and sponsored by Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited. It took place on Friday, 7 December 2007 at 8.00pm at the Coach House, Dublin Castle.

The first part of the concert contained two pieces by Takemitsu Toru, including ‘Towards the Sea’ for flute and guitar and was performed by William Dowdell and John Feeley. The duo also performed special arrangements of ‘Sakura Sakura’ and ‘Haru no Umi’. Philip Horan and Junshi Murakami opened the second part of the concert playing pieces by the Irish composer Turlough O’Carolin as well as a performance of the solo shakuhachi honkyoku ‘Sokkan’. The four musicians then joined together for some Irish and Japanese favourites including ‘O’Carolin’s Concerto’, the ‘Last Rose of Summer’ and two Japanese lullabies. There followed a unique performance of ‘Shika no Tone’ with Philip Horan playing shakuhachi and William Dowdell playing an adapted sliding flute headjoint to copy the meri-kari technique of the shakuhachi. The concert ended with two encours, ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Hana’, in which the performers were joined by the ambassador, Mr. Keiichi Hayashi on the flute.

West meets East

October 17, 2007

On Sunday August 26 2007, I presented a workshop of Japanese and Irish music and culture with Junshi Murakami, an accomplished player of the Irish harp. This was part of a Japanese festival organised by Irish Art Now and took place at the Newry Museum in Northern Ireland.

We presented a programme that included pieces by the blind Irish harpist Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), Irish dance tunes, some well-known melodies as well as a couple of honkyoku and Japanese folk tunes. The timbre of the Irish harp is not unlike the Japanese koto so the ensemble worked well. Many thanks to the staff at the Newry Museum, Kathy and Peter from Irish Art Now and the fantastic audience.

Download MP3s of the concert:
Tabhair dom do láimh
O’Carolan’s Concerto
Two jigs
Planxty Irwin
Toss the feathers

The Prague Shakuhachi Summer School took place from August 18-21. Participants came from Czech republic, England, Holland and Ireland. The teachers were Christopher Yohmei Blasdel, Vlastislav Matousek and Kees Kort.

The summer school venue was close to the centre of Prague. Evening concerts took
place in a local church and literary cafe. One of the evening concerts featured collaborations between poets James Ragan and Petr Berkovec and shakuhachi players. The first half contained performances by Vlastislak Matousek and Marek Matvija accompaning the poetry of Petr Berkovec. In the second half Christoper Yohmei Blasdel accompanied James Ragan.

There was an evening concert devoted to honkyoku and another to contemporary music. These were held in a church with excellent acoustics in the old town.

The summer school included workshops on honkyoku, morning yoga classes and presentations. The pieces taught included Tamuke, Hifumi hachigaeshi and Kyorei. David Bidlo and I did a presentation on shakuhachi acoustics.

The city of Prague provided excellent opportunities for sight-seeing. Meals and accommodation were also quite affordable.

Many thanks to Marek and Vlastislav for an amazing summer school. I think everyone will be back for more next year.