Tim Hoffman's Tribute to Yamaguchi Goro

Dear Bamboo Brothers &Sisters, please allow me to offer my thanks and recollections.

HI, this is T. M. (Tim) Hoffman,logging in from Shimonita, a small town in western Gunma Prefecture;on your map of Japan, it would be the bellybutton of Honshu. Thankyou (and you, and you, ...) for recognizing, in both senses ofthe word, the immeasurable loss of a gentle man (also a gentleman)with a sound that perfectly projected his personality and thetradition that he most admirably represented. I was fortunateto be under his conscientious tutelage as a shakuhachi learnerbetween 1976 and 1979, while I was finishing a BA in music andlanguage at Int'l Christian Univ in Tokyo and commuting to Kabukiza,National Theater, and small halls where schools of jiuta, shakuhachi,nagauta and etc would hold their performances. The highlight ofmy week was the Thursday afternoon visit to Yamaguchi-sensei'shome for a lesson in a room with the sights, scents and soundsthat most fully portrayed to me the "sei-bunka" (spiritof quietute, peace) within the aural art of music. With me havingonly recently completed the sho-den and realizing that my departurefor India (where, as yet unknown to me, I was to spend six yearsin pursuit of another kind of variety in melody and rhythm) wasimminent, Sensei allowed me to choose a few more of my favoritepieces from among the Kinkoryu gaikyoku and honkyoku repertory,and instructed and inspired me with that blend of tranquilityand confidence that, together with his supreme command of themusic he lived, made him a 20th-century avatar of the eternalsoul of Japanese culture.

While in India and completinga 5-yr Visharad degree in classical vocal at Bhatkhande MusicCollege (Lucknow), I petitioned to use shakuhachi in the bansuri(horizontal flute) program, and managed to complete the Visharadin that division (with "Distinction"), and since thenhave had the opportunity to perform with many superb musicians,playing raga on shakuhachi in major music festivals, concerts,radio, TV etc. in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, alsoin Japan and during infrequent visits back to the US. In 1989,I proudly presented to Yamaguchi-sensei a copy of my instructionbook "Raga for Shakuhachi and Koto" (in Japanese, usingKinkoryu and koto Yamada-ryu notation along with the Indian sargamto introduce 8 Hindustani ragas and improvisation principles).Although this was not the kind of cup in which he was accustomedto having his tea, he was gracious and happy for my sake. He mayhave wondered (as I have done myself) how I could have becomeinvolved in something so 'way out there' when I could have beenenjoying the soulful environment of his style of music. I was,of course, a bit disappointed that he would not be able to findtime to try out some of this other 'Asian tea.'

So years went by, occasionallycalling on Sensei or seeing him at performances with Yamada-ryukoto masters whom I have also admired over the past 25 years,never imagining that an opportunity to play Hindustani classicalmusic in front of him could materialize. Then along came the WorldShakuhachi Festival last July, and I was granted a slot in theNew Age of Shakuhachi concert, to play with a fine tabla player,and was also to give a workshop on raga. Alas, a more miserablesummer I have never passed! (Some background required, pardonthe diversion.) In February 1998, just prior to heading off toIndia to record my Indian music guru for JVC World Sounds Specialseries (now out as "Khyal and More: Ganesh Prasad Mishra& Party"), I badly jammed the right (=wrong!) thumb playingbasketball with locals here half my age, then lugged equipmentaround northern India for the recording (=no rest for the damageddigit). After seeing off the engineers back to Japan, trains,buses and feet took me over to Islamabad to help in a literacyeducation project, but while there had not the wisdom to refusea request to play a concert for Pakistan National Council of theArts together with some of that country's finest musicians (=yetmore load on the problem joints and ligaments). Back to Japanin April to start up another semester (teaching ethnomusicologyat Musashino College of Music in Tokyo, also another college)and other duties, I tried to rest the right hand while writingkanji on chalkboards (right-handed, of course!), at home droppingdishes with either hand (even found it could be done with bothhands simultaneously!). It was with faith and hope that I circledJuly on the calendar, planning to resume practice, prepare, etc.,and then received leave of absence from one of the colleges beforea near-accident on the highway had me grabbing for the wheel andploughing that thumb hard into it. That was that. Besides makingthings difficult for the organizers of the Festival, this chainof events had me closer to 'the edge' than I ever hope to experienceagain. And it was not until last week when NHK TV brought thenews of Yamaguchi Goro's death that the my own little tragedywas made complete. Of all people in Japan, it was his understandingand respect that I wished most to earn, and that possibility haddisappeared along with the person and artist that we had loved,and whohad loved us.

At the kokubetsu-shiki lastFriday, many hearts - not very successfully protected by layersof black fabric from the cold of winter and loss - came together,some for the first time, others after a long time, paying respectsand gaining one more inspiration from the gentle man and artistwho had gathered us into his world as a great and varied family.In spite of the sad occasion, I was truly uplifted to rejoin otherswho had helped make the visits to Sensei's so memorable.

Jai Nad! (a Hindi expression,'Long Live the Sacred Sound!'); thank God (and Edison, et al)for Yamaguchi-sensei's music which remains with us. Even in myown music, which is primarily Hindustani, I am certain that somethingof his sound ideal lives on, in particular when rendering someragas (including such seemingly different ones as Jayajayavanti,Jogia, Bhairavi, Asavari, ...). The same must be true for allof us who enjoyed the opportunity to share a bit of his time onour fair Solar satellite. Oh, and incidentally, thanks from thosein other galaxies (?) may someday be addressed to Yamaguchi-sensei,and also to Bob Brown and Carl Sagan who sent his music to themon Voyager II. Let us keep listening to the recordings left tous, and listen carefully to ourselves and the world around us,which is surely something he would wish us to do.

And thank you, whoever mayhave managed to follow this lengthy and awkward tribute to thisabrupt end!


T. M. Hoffman (Indo-JapaneseMusic Exchange Association)
[email protected]
tel/fax (81) 0274-82-3160

ArrowYamaguchi Memorial Page
Arrow ChristopherYohmei Blasdel's Tribute to Yamaguchi Goro
Arrow Japan Times Obituary

Arrow New York TimesObituary
Arrow Photos of YamaguchiGoro at the World Shakuhachi Festival - July, 1998
ArrowYamaguchi Goro Bulletin Board on the WWW

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