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  • Writer's pictureMiyuki Yoshikami

Making Musical Waves, the Legacy of Yatsuhashi

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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