Pan-European Shakuhachi Summer School

The first Pan-European Shakuhachi Summer School with Koto and Shamisen was part of the SOAS World Music Summer Schools series, whose success and renown is increasing by leaps and bounds each year here in England ( The name being short for School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS was a perfect environment for this course. It has been very active in the research and understanding of Asia and Africa in academic genres and the arts. The ethnomusicology department here is one of Europe‚s leading departments in that subject, and the university was thus in the pocession of 6 koto and 5 shamisen.

The Shakuhachi Summer School began with a four-week beginners course twice a week in the evenings from 19 June to 17 July 2006. There were five students˜two of whom had played for a little while on their own before attending the course. I taught the first two weeks and Michael Coxall taught the next two weeks. The method used was that developed by Iwamoto Yoshikazu in order to teach groups of beginners. It provides a systematic approach to the learning process, but is very restrictive with respect to explanations. We felt that this method, despite newer elements such as its systematic approach, would give the student a view of how traditional Japanese music has been taught for centuries, where listening and imitating are the norm. The students improved rapidly, and they expressed that changing teacher had been very interesting for them during the course.
The main Shakuhachi Summer School with Koto and Shamisen was held at SOAS between 19 and 22 July 2006 and attracted a total of 48 students. Fourteen classes were offered, ranging from those in honkyoku, the classical repertoire of the komusô monks, in Kinko (Yamaguchi Goro branch), Zensabô (Okuda Atsuya‚s school) and KSK (Kokusai Shakuhachi Kenshûkai (Yokoyama Katsuya‚s school) styles, a shakuhachi novice class, min‚yô (folk song), koto and shamisen classes, sankyoku classes with koto and shamisen, shinkyoku and gendaikyoku classes (some accompanied by koto), and finally shakuhachi in jazz and rock. Most classes were divided according to different levels of proficiency, and all these classes worked towards participation in the students‚ concert on our last day. As we had several courses running simultaneously, we structured the classes so that the students after two days could change from one to another to gain a taste of another style or genre of music. To the extent possible, classes were thus structured in blocks of two days.

We started the day with ro-buki led by Okuda Atsuya. All 40 of us then played through Hifumi-chô together. Okuda usually plays a very old version of this piece on ji-nashi shakuhachi about 3.6 in length. He was afraid that the simplicity of the older version was going to sound banal on 1.8. But I really think it was good we played this slightly longer than usual but simple version of Hifumi-chô. We were after all 40 people who had to Œbreathe‚ together.
Then we all dispersed into our classes. The shakuhachi teachers included:

Clive Bell, an experienced teacher and performer from London. He has been studying with Miyata Kohachiro, and thereby represented min‚yô shakuhachi, an important genre in shakuhachi music, which until recently been the most popular shakuhachi genre attracting many players in Japan. Nonetheless, organisers outside Japan often neglect min‚yô; thus it was a pleasure to be able to present this genre at the SOAS Summer School. It was also surprising to see how much interest min‚yô drew from the participants, and the classes were full all four days. Clive also taught sankyoku for advanced students, accompanied by koto played by Okuda Utanoichi. This class was perfect for the advanced students, who were hoping to be challenged and learn new pieces, and thus played an important role at the Summer School.

Michael Coxall, also a London local and teacher at SOAS was the co-organiser of the Summer School. He taught elementary kinko ryû honkyoku and elementary sankyoku accompanied by Nakagawa Toshiyu (koto) and Arisawa Shino (shamisen). The kinko ryû represents the oldest of the guild-divided schools and an important traditional branch of shakuhachi. This was shown in the general interest generated among the students for both the honkyoku and sankyoku classes. The elementary sankyoku class, in particular, was very popular. It gave the participants, who may not have many years of playing experience or ever been to Japan, to play with koto and shamisen accompaniment for the first time ˆ an experience that many participants commented on as very positive.

Kiku Day ˆ well, me. I am a SOAS PhD student doing research on contemporary music played on shakuhachi. I was the main organiser of this event and although I love teaching, I only helped my teacher, Okuda Atsuya in his classes, as my main role was organising. Perhaps next year! J
Dr. Jim Franklin, an Australian musicologist, composer, and shakuhachi player and a KSK licensed teacher living in Nürnberg, Germany. He has studied with Dr. Riley Lee and Yokoyama Katusya and is a representative of the Kokusai Shakuhachi Kenkyûkai. Yokoyama is known for, among other things, his collaboration with Takemitsu Tôru. Yokoyama‚s teaching is thus of great importance in the modern shakuhachi world, where innovation and tradition meet, and Jim‚s teaching here at the Summer School was an important aspect of this newer trend. Jim taught honkyoku, shinkyoku, and gendaikyoku classes. In the gendaikyoku for beginners, he taught a piece of his own composition designed to enable beginners to perform an ensemble piece at the student concert. For the advanced gendaikyoku, he taught Haru no Umi by Miyagi Michio, a modern classic in the shakuhachi and koto repertoire. Here he was accompanied by Okuda Satoshi on the koto, both in class and at the concert. During one of the lunchtime talks, Jim also gave a speech about breathing techniques, a subject on which he has done much research.

Okuda Atusya, the founder of Zensabô, who devotes himself exclusively to honkyoku played on the ji-nashi shakuhachi. That the unlined shakuhachi is today enjoying a boom was also felt at the Summer School. Many participants were very interested in them. Okuda, who in his youth, visited older teachers to learn older styles of shakuhachi playing, has created his own distinct and unique playing style. His classes were extremely popular, partly, no doubt, due to curiosity about his long, ji-nashi shakuhachi and his unusual playing style, and partly, perhaps, to the fact that some Europeans are unable to travel to Japan and study with a Japanese master. I felt the Japanese input at the Summer School was highly appreciated by the participants, and feel very grateful for the support of the whole Okuda family that came out to help. Okuda is also a very friendly person, and he was often seen giving advice and private lessons while not teaching group lessons. Okuda taught a class in elementary honkyoku, and one in advanced honkyoku.
Véronique Piron, a French flutist and licensed teacher of Yokoyama Katsuya‚s KSK. She has been successful in incorporating the shakuhachi as an option to choose as a major at French conservatories and is very concerned with the pedagogy of teaching shakuhachi. As she has the same guild background as Jim, she shared some classes with him where they were able to support each other while offering the students their respective expertises. Véronique taught honkyoku, shinkyoku and gendaikyoku. She introduced the participants to two important modern styles by teaching Fukuda Randô‚s Yûgure no gensô kyoku with koto accompaniment by Iwamoto Michiko in the elementary gendaikyoku class. Fukuda is an important composer for shakuhachi players to know and his pieces are very popular in Japan. In her advanced gendaikyoku class, Véronique taught the piece often considered as the first contemporary composition for shakuhachi, Moroi Makoto‚s Chikurai Goshô from 1964, i.e., two years before Takemitsu Tôru wrote his first piece for shakuhachi.

Brian (Tairaku) Ritchie came from the United States to teach at the Summer School. A licensed teacher of the Jin Nyôdo‚s style of kinko ryû. since a very young age Brian has been a professional musician and he still tours with his rock band, Violent Femmes. Brian uses the shakuhachi in jazz and rock music as often as he plays the traditional repertoire. He taught the novice class after a method created by Kurahashi Yoshio. The students advanced very quickly and were able to play at the student concert after only four days of studying shakuhachi. The class in jazz was very popular and many were curious to challenge this style of music on an instrument so firmly bound to traditions. The group from this class that performed at the students‚ concert was among the largest. Brian accompanied the classes with bass guitar and percussion, and added to the diversity of options available to study at the Summer School.

In addition to the shakuhachi teachers named above, the following string players performed at the Summer school:
Arisawa Shino, a PhD student at SOAS (shamisen)
Iwamoto Michiko (Gayue), Seiha ikuta ryû (koto)
Nakagawa Noriko (Toshiyo), Ikuta ryû sôkyoku kenshû-kai (koto)
Okuda Kazuko (Masako), Seiha ikuta ryû (shamisen)
Okuda Satoshi (Utanoichi), Seiha ikuta ryû (koto and shamisen)
The string instruments koto and shamisen constitute a vital part of the extended shakuhachi repertoire. In order to promote these instruments in Europe, where they are little known, we found it important to incorporate them into the Summer School and provide instruction, rather than merely employing them as accompaniments to the shakuhachi. The lack of knowledge about these instruments in Europe, along with the difficulty in purchasing them and the lack of teachers, probably affects their popularity. Thus only seven students attended these classes. Be that as it may, we believe that the exposing for people to these instruments has made a difference. The quality of the teachers was very high, including the third and fourth heirs to the head of the Seiha ikuta ryû. Not only did the string players contribute to the Summer School by enabling shakuhachi players to play in sankyoku ensembles, but they also provided the concert audience with the opportunity to experience another type of sound from Japan over and above that of the honkyoku tradition of shakuhachi. Indeed, after the concert Iwamoto Michiko was surrounded by members of the audience keen to ask questions about the koto and her training as a musician.

The student body of the Shakuhachi Summer School was very diverse. We managed to attract players from many corners of Europe, and even from outside the continent. The students were residents of:
Shakuhachi players:
UK: 23
Germany: 6
US: 2
Belgium: 1
Finland: 1
Ireland: 1
Japan: 1
Netherlands: 1
Norway: 1
Poland: 1
Spain: 1
Sweden: 1
Switzerland: 1

All the seven koto and shamisen players are residents of the UK.

If it came to nationality, we would have had many more countries, but I was here just concerned with the fact that people are willing to travel to participate in a shakuhachi event like this, which will make us more confident in the future when we plan events! We have had much positive feedback from the participants. They seem already to be awaiting next year‚s Summer School with enthusiasm. There have already been activity for the next year‚s Summer School to be held in France.

Five talks and one meeting took place during lunchtime breaks and four concerts after dinner in the evening. The talks added to the diversity already described above. They consisted of:

Phillip Horan (Ireland) presenting his approach when playing Irish traditional music on the shakuhachi.
John Kaizen Neptune (resident in Japan) gave a talk on how to practice in order to gain maximum improvement.
Tilo Burdach (Germany) gave a talk on Meian school shakuhachi as taught by Nishimura Kokû.
Richard Stagg (UK) demonstrated how to maintain and repair a shakuhachi.
Dr. Jim Franklin demonstrated breathing techniques.
The last day saw a meeting about the creating of a European Shakuhachi Society.
These talks were well attended and gave the participants a chance to see and hear about other approaches and ideas, and receive advice on techniques etc. It was just by chance that John Kaizan Neptune was in London when we had our Summer School. He was in the country to play at Queen Elizabeth Hall in the RhythmSticks series, was kind enough to agree to participate and sphared a lot of time with us during the daytime when he was free. He generously gave a lot of people advice on shakuhachi purchase, repair etc.

We had 4 concert, one each evening:
1. A closed first-night open mic evening where everybody had the chance to go up and perform. The evening ended with a jam session by the two jazz players, John Kaizan Neptune and Brian Tairaku Ritchie. A great way to have fun and get to know each other.
2. The first public concert by teachers was held the second evening in the Khalili Lecture Theatre at SOAS. The hall was full and some attendees had to stand along the wall. The theme this evening was mainly contemporary music and improvisation, although honkyoku was also performed. Contemporary compositions for koto and shamisen were also performed, as well as sankyoku pieces.
3. The second public concert by the teachers was held the third evening in the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre at SOAS. This evening‚s theme was mainly traditional music, including honkyoku, sankyoku, min‚yô (sung by Dr. David Hughes, the head of teh music department and a min'yo scholar), and a world premiere of a piece by the Australian composer Bruce Crossman written for Jim.
4. The gala night was reserved for the participants in the Summer School. The teachers had worked throughout the courses with their students for this concert. We had a wonderful evening of very good quality music from our shakuhachi, koto, and shamisen students. The pieces performed included honkyoku, sankyoku, min‚yô, jazz, improvisation, contemporary music and compositions by students. An extraordinary end to four intensive days of music study! I, myself found this very moving. Some had only begun playing 4 days earlier and played already a solo on stage. The experience of this concert made all the hours spent on website, promotion and planning well worth the effort.
At the lunchtime meeting on the last day, we discussed the possibilities of holding events like this in the future. The European shakuhachi community strongly hopes that this event will continue in the future, and thus help to inspire further growth in shakuhachi, koto and shamisen music on the continent. Our vision is a Summer School which will rotate among the countries of Europe, so as many people as possible can participate. We also discussed the possibility of holding it again at SOAS (although this year‚s two organisers, Michael Coxall and I will not be there next summer, due to a sabbatical and fieldwork, respectively).

In addition we discussed the founding of a non-profit organisation ˜ the European Shakuhachi Society (ESS), which hopefully in the future would concern itself with the organisation of events like the Summer School. The second Newsletter for ESS is just being published, and hopefully we will be able to establish the organisation itself, now that it has its very own newsletter!

You will very soon be able to download the Newsletter from the Euroashak list's page:
Or go to our Summer School website:
which will very soon change to

The first is already available. The second NL, coming soon, will have a similar account like this from me, but more interestingly several short reports from participants... and not to mention many more very interesting articles.

Thus the future of the shakuhachi and koto/shamisen seems very bright here in Europe. This year‚s Summer School, the very first, has been a very vital step in consolidating the European shakuhachi community and increasing cultural exchange with Japan, and we are sure that it only constitutes the beginning of great developments in the future. We are hoping we manage to create an inclusive shakuhachi community where all genres, schools and approaches will be respected equally. I think the variety at the Summer School pointed in that direction. Now we have to nurture what has been started.

Kiku Day

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