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Moon on the Water - Volume 1 Liner Notes
1. Kumoi Jishi
Originally from Icho-ken,a temple which existed in Hakkata prefecture this piece is now part of the Kinko school founded in the late 17 th century. Kumoi Jishi is one of the Gaikyoku, or lighter pieces which were added to the the original 36 pieces from this school around the beginning of the 18 th century. These pieces were played by Komuso (wandering monks) outside the temple setting for entertainment and during begging practice (Takahatsu) and are sometimes called hiru-kara (after midday ) as such music was only played in the afternoon and evening hours.
The Komuso (priests of emptiness) played shakuhachi as a meditation tool and whilst part of the day was spent playing the more serene Zen music,( like Mukaiji ,Banshiki etc) these lighter pieces were better appreciated by their patrons who enjoyed the more popular folk music tradition.
The title "Kumoi Jish i" is usually translated as "Lion Dance". It is said to represent a mystical lion or a dragon dancing playfully among the clouds. The music is lighthearted and melodic and is reminiscent of the folk melodies of the period played at colorful festivals during the lion dance.
Banshiki is also from Icho-ken and is known as a Honkoku (original) meditation piece. This piece was played in ceremonial occasions and contrasts with the lighter outside pieces in its austerity and its simple structure.
The term Banshiki actually describes a specific tuning that represents autumn. The deeper interpretation of the title represents the journey of the spirit after death. It has a three part structure and repeats a similar pattern in different registers on the flute. This piece is a profound and spiritual work which is played in a very simple and unadorned style we call, "Kyo-sui" or empty blowing. The sound is as natural as the wind blowing through a bamboo grove or a pine forest and is imbued with a deep sense of calm and stillness.
3. Akebono Jishi
This piece is sometimes called Azuma no Kyoku and, like Kumoi Jishi is from Icho-Ken and is now part of the Kinko Ryu repertoire. The exact meaning of this alternate title is unclear. Azuma is the eastern region of Japan and this music may refer to a Komuso who is far from home longing to return to the east. It may also refer to a melody for eastern koto ,an instrument used in Kagura. The title Akebono Jishi is means "Dawn Piece". It is similar to Kumoi Jishi in that it has a somewhat melodic and rhythmic structure that is similar to folk music, although in the current form the scale used is much more like the older meditation pieces.
Many of these popular melodies were shared between traveling monks and then slowly evolved in different regions of Japan , sometimes being given new titles and occasional changes in structure. We often find similar pieces with different names and also different pieces with the same name. This can be confusing for scholars who try to unravel the mysteries surrounding some of these works, where they cam from, who composed them etc. I view these shakuhachi pieces as living organisms which evolve and adapt, being given new life in the hands of each generation of players, changing with the circumstances and surviving sometimes even political attempts to destroy the tradition. ( the komuso were officially banned at the time of the Meiji Reformation in 1871)
4. Esashi Oiwake
This is a particular kind of folk song from Esashi in Hokkaido . Folk music is avery rich tradition in Japan and among the tradition are many "work" songs. Accompanying everything from washing clothes, pounding rice, chopping down trees or taking care of the children. The term "Oiwake" refers to Packhorseman or Boatman songs which were sung by merchants and travelers who were often far from home. They are filled with melancholy and longing and this song from Esashi evokes this sadness beautifully. This is also expressed in the lyrics of the song that inspired this solo work;
"Over the waves
A raft burdened by a thousand miles of thoughts
is drawn by the moon".
Songs of this type are very popular and this one is often sung in a sort of vocal competition between villages, often accompanied with generous amounts of Sake or rice wine. The version played here is a refined shakuhachi solo work which expresses the emotions felt by these lonely travelers as the journeyed far from home under a bright moon.
5. Yoru no Uta
This work was composed by Hisamato Genchi and is part of the Tozan Ryu repertoire of more modern pieces. The Tozan school is one of the largest schools in Japan and has many fine adherents. This school has a unique and varied repertoire of oices mostly composed since the beginning of the 19 th century.
The title "Yoru no Uta" means "Night Song" and describes the feeling we have when we see a bright full moon over the ocean. This song too is filled with longing and the words, sung by a lonely girl reflect on her dreams from the previous nights sleep:
"The silver moon shines distant in the nocturnal sky,
It is the same color as the roses that bloomed last night in my dream.
Tomorrow I will sing this song with you,
mounted on the wings of our dreams".
6. Komoro Uta
This song (Uta) is from Komoro is Nagano . It is typical of folk songs from this region and is a kind of lullaby sung by the baby sitter to their charge. It has a beautiful melody which repeats several times in slightly altered form, presumably repeated until the infant falls asleep. The melody is peaceful and somewhat sad and has a dreamlike quality.
7. Tsuru no Sugomori
There are perhaps as many as twelve pieces with the title Tsuru no Sugomori and this particular one is from Fudaiji temple in Hamamatsu . Fudaiji was an important temple for the Komuso and many of the finest surviving Honkoku pieces were preserved there.
Tsuru no Sugomori means, "depicting the cranes in their nests". It represents the life cycle of these magnificent birds. This work is quite rhythmic and like most of the crane pieces has many repetitive patterns.
On this recording you can hear the sounds of thousands of Sandhill cranes in their winter nesting grounds. Many of the techniques used to play this piece such as "koro-koro" and "kara-kara" mimic the sounds of the cranes and the beating of their wings. This work is remarkable in its' classic structure and is rather light in feeling.
The cranes nest pieces are meditative pieces somewhat different from many of the Zen works. They are played to celebrate the joy of life and a deep love of the natural order. Cranes are appreciated for their grace and beauty and have come to represent longevity in life and in marriage (cranes usually mate for life).
I have developed a deep love and respect for these birds and play these pieces to express gratitude and hope for their survival, and to increase awareness of their plight. Most of the worlds cranes are on the endangered species list.