Hi Kyoku

Volume I - HI KYOKU

1. Choshi
2. Hifumi-no-shirabe
3. Akita-sugagaki
4. Koku
5. Yobibue-oteki
6. Akebono-no-shirabe
7. Iyo-renbo
8. Kyushu-reibo
9. Sashi
10. Horai


1. Choshi

Expressing the essential spirit of kotenhonkyoku, Choshi serves to help establish pitch and to centerthe musician. Many masters say, "If you can but master thissimple piece you can understand the essence of koten honkyoku."


As an introduction to the study of kotenhonkyoku, Hifumi-no-shirabe is often the first piece attemptedby the novice. This piece makes use of an intricate fingeringtechnique that serves to limber up and relax the hands. "Hifumi"- meaning simply "1 - 2 - 3" - is usually consideredthe foundation of the koten honkyoku repertoire. By confiningthe music to the lower register (otsu) of the shakuhachi, tonesare more easily produced by the beginner.


This piece is one of the original elevenpieces brought to Kyoto by Higuchi Taizan from Fudaiji templein Hamamatsu. Higuchi Taizan founded Meianji the temple in Kyoto.The title may possibly relate to season (Autumn), but any connectionwith Akita city or prefecture is usually dismissed as inaccurate.The originality of Akita-sugagaki rests in the clarity of thefinal "Takane" section, where, in the fluctuation oftempo, a refreshing feeling is achieved.

4. Koku

Legend has it that a founding monk ofthe Meianji temple in Kyoto, Kaiso Kichiku (or possibly Kyochiku),climbed Asama-yama and spent the night in the Kokuzo meditationhall atop the mountain. In a mystical dream he heard this melody.Koku, which literally translates as "empty sky," ison of the three main pieces of Japanese honkyoku music for soloshakuhachi, (along with Mukaiji and Kyorei). It is also the longestand most melodic of the three.


The komuso are traditionally monks whovisit neighborhoods and collect alms. They signal their arrivalby playing the shakuhachi. They are most easily recognized bya large bamboo basket which they wear over their heads which symbolizeshumility and anonymity. While standing before a Zen temple, thekomuso plays this short piece three times beckoning the priest(Yobibue). If the priest is present, he responds by playing theoteki.


This piece may also have originatedfrom Kyoto's temple of Meianji, yet, since many temples claimAkebono-no-shirabe as their own, it is impossible to say for certain.This piece is designated as "gekyoku" which means "leisurepiece" or "music played for fun." It was most typicallyplayed by Zen monks during their leisure time, and is best performedon a shorter flute.

7. Iyo-renbo

This piece comes from a sub-group ofthe Kyoto temple of Meianji , which is called Meian Shinpo-ryu.Works such as Iyo-renbo were often adapted from folk melodiesor festival songs, as opposed to more traditional court music.The Meian Shinpo-ryu music is characterized by a constant tempothat departs from the traditional honkyoku music that relies solelyon the breath to determine rhythm.


The southern island of Kyushu is oneon the founding places of koten honkyoku. Kyushu-reibo is saidto have come from Icchoken temple in Hakata. This temple, as wellas the island of Kyushu in general, was home to many komuso. Duringthe Edo era, many wandering komuso would stay at these temples,exchanging different pieces and shakuhachi techniques. Gradually,a distinctive fingering technique developed that is now associatedwith the shakuhachi music that contains the word "reibo"in the title. Fukozenji was a monk of the temple of Ichyokenji.His duties included ringing the bell to announce different functionsof the temple. It is said that Fukozenji composed Kyushu-reiboby concentrating on the image or spirit of the temple bell.

9. Sashi

Like Reibo, Sashi is a term associatedwith koten honkyoku. In fact, there appears to be many differentsongs that all share the title Sashi. It is possible that differentversions of Sashi all share the same source, but this is uncertain.The Sashi performed here is of an unrefined style; basic and pure.As such, this version is particularly touching because of itsrustic quality.

10. Horai

This song comes from rinzai Zen temple,Kokutaiji, located in Toyama Prefecture. The title Horai itselfcomes from Mt. Horai, a mythical Chinese peak where one does notexperience old age. Horai is composed in a minor key, and usesthe Miyakobushi scale. This melodic mode will be familiar to mostadmirers of Japanese music. The shakuhachi itself has only fiveholes that alone produce a pentatonic scale. Quarter tones aremade by partially covering the holes and adjusting the angle ofone's neck while playing. These flattened tones create a sombermood within the piece. One will notice many repetitious phraseswithin Horai, which is reminiscent of the standard sankyoku pieceRokudan.


Afterword to Hi Kyoku

Koten honkyoku is the oldest traditionof shakuhachi music and it maintains a special connection withZen Buddhism. Although the shakuhachi is used in a variety ofcontexts within Japanese music, honkyoku is performed entirelysolo.

One of the most ancient traditions in Japanese music, honkyokuhas been kept alive by a handful of non-professional elders andZen priests. It is through their efforts that several pieces havecome down through the ages to us. I have been working to maintainthis tradition for the present and future generations.

Koten honkyoku is the basic foundation from which all other shakuhachistyles derive. I hope, through my performance on this recording,to introduce musicians and listeners alike to this music.

Koten honkyoku does not emphasize a rigid form of compositionor playing technique. It is rather archetypical in its constructionand performance. Since the breath determines the rhythm, eachperformance is at once a personal and "classical" experience.Still, I've tried to adhere to the original shakuhachi spiritas much as possible. I would like this performance of suizen (blowingZen) to fulfill two objectives; to maintain a Zen tradition withinthis music, and also to aspire to the highest degree of musicianshipto which I am capable.

Aside from an equalizer, a minimum of recording technology wasemployed during recording in order to insure that this cassetteis as true to a live performance as possible. All pieces are playedon a standard shakuhachi (hassunkan) so that students may playalong with the recording.

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