Restoration of a Kono Gyokusan (Gyokusui) 1.8'
by Martin Mosko, Boulder, CO
Last January and February I was in Auroville, India. Auroville is located south of Chennai in Tamil Nadu (Madras) near Pondicherry. It is said to be the senior “intentional” community in the world. People who live there come from 47 different countries. 40% of them are children. They have in common a dedication to the positive evolution of human consciousness, in an environment that is ecological, aware, contemplative, highly creative, and intentional. I was there working with a small group designing the twelve gardens which will surround the central meditation pavilion, the MatriMandir.
While there I was introduced to Aurelio by a mutual good friend. He is the chief of music research in Auroville. So, besides managing a group of local craftsmen who make an incredible assortment of musical instruments, he also produces or has something to do with nearly every musical event in Auroville, and there are a lot of those at this time of year. Musicians from all over the world, who practice music as a devotional art, come to Auroville where they find like-minded audiences.
Aurelio was very interested to learn that I played a shakuhachi flute. I showed him my shakuhachi, a flute made by Rampo Yokoyama, which has cracked a few times. It has been masterfully repaired by Monty Levenson. Each time it was something of a miracle — that a beautiful sound that could no longer be heard, could be brought back to life. It was like the resurrection of the phoenix.
It was then Aurelio told me most of the following account of the travels and journeys of the Kono Gyokusan shakuhachi:
Vitthal was born in Ireland and his father was in the business of race horses. The kind called “trotters” that pull a two wheel cart and rider. He worked also in Europe and the family moved to Germany and when the WW2 got serious, his father shifted the family to Holland where Vithal went to school. Vithal then went to France for medical school to become a doctor, but during his studies decided to become a Jesuit priest and moved back to Ireland for those studies . After he became a priest, he began work at the Vatican Radio in Rome. Eventually he became the head of the African department. I met Vithal in Rome in 1971 when I was still in the Jesuits and he arranged for me to meet Frederico Fellini and spent a night with him shooting the film ROMA for the sequence around the coliseum. Next year he came to Stanford University in California and I met him in Berkeley when he left the Jesuits and taught in the Unitarian Seminary at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. I did not know him well then, but in 1974 on the very day I was leaving for Auroville, I ran into him on the street and we had lunch together. I heard nothing from him for nine years and on my first visit back in the US, I learned from my cousin that he also knew Vitthal and we went to visit him. Vitthal had started a community called Madracara with Danaan Parry and Rabiya (who later came to Verite). They had moved out of this community and dissolved it because it had been so successful and they had a peaceful rhythm with nature, but the rest of the world seem to be in such a serious crisis that they had to lend their energies to doing something about it. Danaan founded Earth Stewards which became an international organization together with Rabiya who then shifted toward the Sufis. Vitthal came to visit me in Auroville in the early eighties, liked it, and came back to stay. He soon met Mayaura and they married and Bhakti was born in 1989.
My further anecdotal contribution as related by "B", a dear elder friend in his seventies who also resides in Auroville:
Vitthal must have been in his early sixties when his girl was born, and was most of the time in the jolly mood of an irish story teller, and did write poetry and later, to cope with his illness, the well-known and partly hilarious Zen fabels .
He practiced daily his Tai Chi small form which I thought he had picked up from a contact with Gia Fu Feng, and from that time of the Community in Northern California might have been also his play of the shakuhachi, saying that he probably got it somewhere around the Bay Area. He was not a hard learner/practitioner and in-between picked up his recorder to play some Irish Tunes. But, possibly through his clerical background had also a focused seriousness and contributed contemplative pieces on festive occasions. I just loved the very alive irregular tones of his play while daily passing his room. Once he started to struggle with cancer and being in big pain most of the time he did not have the strength—as he said—to give to the demanding instrument, but continue to tread the flute as one of his most precious possessions and companion.
i had been with him over his last year and finally went with a friend to take him home from the clinic, and held him in his last breaths on the way home.
It had been one of the most profound silences I had experienced for an hour of eternity, as soon as we had placed him in his room and his last breath stopped . . .
Eleanor, our then elder and Canadian pioneer then read his last will and besides a wonderful humor and wish for a special music he had prepared on CD for the funeral, he mentioned therein that he wanted to entrust the shakuhachi into my hands and heart. After putting the CD into the machine it almost threw us from our chairs as it was a very lively and animated Dixieland march!
Settling his affairs afterwards there arose some tensions as his divorced wife also had hoped to be able to keep the treasured flute. I had no real claim, and even already having started an attachment to it as a kind of a 'spiritual friend' without having seen the stored away flute, I was ready to let go for the sake of harmony.
Then, while taking her out of the cloth bag, we realized that she had a big crack along the side . . . which somehow was rather a big shock to us, as we felt that something had happened 'behind the scene'. Broken it had no attraction to the wife anymore and so the shakuhachi came into my hands, wounded, dead . . .
Now that must have been in the mid Nineties and I had not yet even started our workshop/project with instrument-building! (a moment of reflection right now . . . never had thought of that before, on this special 'inheritance' !? ). A few years later a Tamil boy always helped me in repairing instruments which had been damaged in my work as a theater musician for a foremost Indian contemporary troupe, and due to large unemployment of our local youth we started then in 2003 the work of SVARAM.
Due to the grassroots base of the project and starting off without any formal guidance it took us all these years to create the first simple base of our instruments, with the trainees often asking for a 'master instrument builder' —possibly we had to wait that long that this wandering abbot from the Rockies had to step into our workshop, to find one of these precious connections . . . Music and its humble servants—and the Eternal Player!
Aurelio brought me this shakuhachi. It was cracked completely through from top to bottom. I’d never seen anything so badly destroyed. I told him that my shakuhachi was also badly cracked and that a friend of mine in California was able to repair it and return it to its former glorious sound. Aurelio agreed to let me take the flute back with me to the U.S. and see if Monty could conceivable restore this precious instrument.
As you can see, the flute has been brought back from the dead, and plays maybe better than ever. What’s important is that the connections between all of the people who have loved this shakuhachi are reactivated and also brought to life.
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