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  • Writer's pictureMiyuki Yoshikami

Go to Podcast: Making Musical Waves: The Legacy of Yatsuhashi

(Image by Sotatsu Tawaraya from Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution)

I performed on November 14, 2015, at the National Museum of Asian Art, Freer auditorium "Rokudan" and "Chidori no Kyoku" with Kurahashi Yodo and his wife, Ayako, and the Cantate Chamber Singers. Also from Japan, Tominaga Seijo and Tomio Seiritsu performed an ancient kumi-uta, the shamisen hit,"Sarashi," and sankyoku,"Hagi no Kyoku."

Yatsuhashi Kengyo (1614-1685) was chosen for this concert to show the musical

changes that paralleled the works of the painter, Tawaraya Sotatsu’s (1570-1640) “Making

Waves” (Oct 20, 2015-January 31, 2016).

Sotatsu’s novel, daring, lavish colors, use of gold, and stylized designs of abstract waves

have been reproduced by artists who later followed him. Similarly, blind Yatsuhashi defied

the ban on playing the Tsukushi koto--a style prohibited to women and blind musicians—and

surreptitiously learned to play it. His daring opened the koto for merchants, women, or

everyone to enjoy, and even play it in an ensemble with the commoner’s shamisen (3-

stringed) and shakuhachi (bamboo flute).

The concert began with Yatsuhashi’s kumi-uta (collections of songs) and dan-mono (sectioned instrumental) music. This program includes the shamisen’s new style piece that followed, a frolicsome duet called “Sarashi” (Dying Fabrics). The concept of the kumi-uta was extended in the next piece, "Chidori no Kyoku (Plovers)", with the expressions of birds in flight over dancing waves in the tegoto (instrumental interlude). An ethereal dimension is added to "Chidori" with Gary Davison’s chorale work in the vocal section. The final piece, "Hagi no Kyoku (Bush clover)," epitomizes the music that evolved from Yatsuhashi. This is an example of the refinement and sophistication associated with Japan’s high art music of sankyoku (three instruments).

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This book was recommended to me by my friend, Tim Healey, because we both believe in the healing power of music. The author, Andrew Schulman, a professional guitarist, tells about how music helped him and other post operative patients of a New York hospital. The guitar, which he says sounds almost like every stringed instrument of the world (he mentions the koto), is appealing to everyone. I highly recommend this book for he not only talks about music, but of the medical and psychological research supporting the healing power of music. Plus, the purpose of Japanese music is to be in harmony with nature and to be soothing. Often, after I play the koto for a lecture or recital, a person would come up to tell me how they were calmed by the sound of the koto.

cover of the book Waking the Spirit by Andrew Schulman

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  • Writer's pictureMiyuki Yoshikami

My friend held the "Kurahashi Yodo Classic Shakuhachi Solo Recital"at the Bunraku Theater in Osaka, Japan on October 28th, 2022. On December 26, 2022 he received from Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs, the 77th Arts Festival Excellence Award. Congratulations!

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