Volume I - HI KYOKU
Expressing the essential spirit of koten honkyoku, Choshi serves to help establish pitch and to center the musician. Many masters say, "If you can but master this simple piece you can understand the essence of koten honkyoku."
As an introduction to the study of koten honkyoku, Hifumi-no-shirabe is often the first piece attempted by the novice. This piece makes use of an intricate fingering technique that serves to limber up and relax the hands. "Hifumi" - meaning simply "1 - 2 - 3" - is usually considered the foundation of the koten honkyoku repertoire. By confining the music to the lower register (otsu) of the shakuhachi, tones are more easily produced by the beginner.
This piece is one of the original eleven pieces brought to Kyoto by Higuchi Taizan from Fudaiji temple in Hamamatsu. Higuchi Taizan founded Meianji the temple in Kyoto. The title may possibly relate to season (Autumn), but any connection with Akita city or prefecture is usually dismissed as inaccurate. The originality of Akita-sugagaki rests in the clarity of the final "Takane" section, where, in the fluctuation of tempo, a refreshing feeling is achieved.
Legend has it that a founding monk of the Meianji temple in Kyoto, Kaiso Kichiku (or possibly Kyochiku), climbed Asama-yama and spent the night in the Kokuzo meditation hall atop the mountain. In a mystical dream he heard this melody. Koku, which literally translates as "empty sky," is on of the three main pieces of Japanese honkyoku music for solo shakuhachi, (along with Mukaiji and Kyorei). It is also the longest and most melodic of the three.
The komuso are traditionally monks who visit neighborhoods and collect alms. They signal their arrival by playing the shakuhachi. They are most easily recognized by a large bamboo basket which they wear over their heads which symbolizes humility and anonymity. While standing before a Zen temple, the komuso plays this short piece three times beckoning the priest (Yobibue). If the priest is present, he responds by playing the oteki.
This piece may also have originated from Kyoto's temple of Meianji, yet, since many temples claim Akebono-no-shirabe as their own, it is impossible to say for certain. This piece is designated as "gekyoku" which means "leisure piece" or "music played for fun." It was most typically played by Zen monks during their leisure time, and is best performed on a shorter flute.
This piece comes from a sub-group of the Kyoto temple of Meianji , which is called Meian Shinpo-ryu. Works such as Iyo-renbo were often adapted from folk melodies or festival songs, as opposed to more traditional court music. The Meian Shinpo-ryu music is characterized by a constant tempo that departs from the traditional honkyoku music that relies solely on the breath to determine rhythm.
The southern island of Kyushu is one on the founding places of koten honkyoku. Kyushu-reibo is said to have come from Icchoken temple in Hakata. This temple, as well as the island of Kyushu in general, was home to many komuso. During the 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 associated with 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 functions of the temple. It is said that Fukozenji composed Kyushu-reibo by concentrating on the image or spirit of the temple bell.
Like Reibo, Sashi is a term associated with koten honkyoku. In fact, there appears to be many different songs that all share the title Sashi. It is possible that different versions 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 its rustic quality.
This song comes from rinzai Zen temple, Kokutaiji, located in Toyama Prefecture. The title Horai itself comes from Mt. Horai, a mythical Chinese peak where one does not experience old age. Horai is composed in a minor key, and uses the Miyakobushi scale. This melodic mode will be familiar to most admirers of Japanese music. The shakuhachi itself has only five holes that alone produce a pentatonic scale. Quarter tones are made by partially covering the holes and adjusting the angle of one's neck while playing. These flattened tones create a somber mood within the piece. One will notice many repetitious phrases within Horai, which is reminiscent of the standard sankyoku piece Rokudan.
Afterword to Hi Kyoku
Koten honkyoku is the oldest tradition
of shakuhachi music and it maintains a special connection with
Zen Buddhism. Although the shakuhachi is used in a variety of
contexts within Japanese music, honkyoku is performed entirely
One of the most ancient traditions in Japanese music, honkyoku has been kept alive by a handful of non-professional elders and Zen priests. It is through their efforts that several pieces have come down through the ages to us. I have been working to maintain this tradition for the present and future generations.
Koten honkyoku is the basic foundation from which all other shakuhachi styles 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 composition or playing technique. It is rather archetypical in its construction and performance. Since the breath determines the rhythm, each performance is at once a personal and "classical" experience. Still, I've tried to adhere to the original shakuhachi spirit as much as possible. I would like this performance of suizen (blowing Zen) to fulfill two objectives; to maintain a Zen tradition within this music, and also to aspire to the highest degree of musicianship to which I am capable.
Aside from an equalizer, a minimum of recording technology was employed during recording in order to insure that this cassette is as true to a live performance as possible. All pieces are played on a standard shakuhachi (hassunkan) so that students may play along with the recording.
Price of CDs / Price of Sheet Music
Volume II - Korei
Volume III - Shumi
Volume IV - Michi
Volume V - Kumoi
Tokuyama Honkyoku Sheet Music
Tokuyama Honkyoku Playing Guide
Hei Shakuhachi Homepage