Yamaguchi Goro - NY Times Obituary

Goro Yamaguchi, 65, a Master of Traditional Japanese Music

By Jon Pareles

Goro Yamaguchi, a player of the shakuhachi, or wooden flute, who was named a "living national treasure" in Japan and who introduced the instrument to many Western listeners, died on Sunday in Tokyo. He was 65 and lived in Tokyo. The cause was a heart attack, said Ralph Samuelson, one of his American students.

Yamaguchi was a renowned figure in Japanese traditional music. His 1968 album of Zen meditation music for the Nonesuch Explorer series, "A Bell Ringing in Empty Sky," was the first widely available Western recording of the shakuhachi, and it was a revelation to many Western listeners. Music from that album was included in a selection of Earth music carried into space by Voyager 2 in 1977. Reviewing Yamaguchi for The New York Times in 1987, Robert Palmer praised his "large, enveloping sound, remarkable for such a small, fragile-looking instrument."

Yamaguchi was born into a family of traditional musicians in Tokyo. His father was a leading shakuhachi player and his mother played the koto and shamisen. Goro Yamaguchi began studying shakuhachi with his father when he was 11, and made his public debut two years later. By his mid-20's, he had been recognized as one of his generation's outstanding shakuhachi players. He received three Ministry of Culture Grand Awards; in 1992 he was designated a "living national treasure."

In the United States, Yamaguchi was the first visiting artist in residence for Wesleyan University's program in classical Japanese music. He had students both in Japan and abroad, and until his death he was a professor at Tokyo University of the Arts.

He is survived by two daughters, Junko Kato and Tamoko Yamaguchi; two grandchildren, three brothers and a sister.

The New York Times, January 7, 1999
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