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Moon on the Water - Volume 2 Liner Notes

1. Daiwa Gaku

This short piece was composed by the great shakuhachi player Jin Nyodo. Jin Nyodo is the founder of my particular lineage and I consider him my shakuhachi great grandfather. He taught the father (and teacher) of my teacher Yoshio Kurahashi sensei.

Daiwa Gaku was developed as a basic teaching piece. It contains all of the standard pitches arranged in the symbolic form of a gently rounded mountain. Daiwa Gaku means "great peace" and is played in a simple unadorned style called "Kyosui" or "empty blowing". This is a fundamental blowing/breathing technique used in Sui-zen, or "blowing-zen" practice. This technique of "no-technique" was considered by Jin Nyodo as the most important to establish proper respect for the instrument.

Jin described the meaning of the title in this way: "good manners are the beginning of heaven; music (gaku) is the harmony (wa) of heaven.


2. Mukaiji

Mukaiji, along with the pieces, Koku and Kyorei, is considered to be one of the most revered and spiritually profound works of the ancient shakuhachi temple tradition.

Mukaiji was preserved at Fudaiji and is representative of the Zen pieces played by the monks of the Fuke-shu sect to enlighten all sentient beings. Legend tells us that Kichiku-zenji was visiting a temple on top of Mt. Asama. He was meditating under a bright moon and drifted into a deep sleep. He dreamed he was adrift on a raft on a misty ocean with a hazy moon overhead. From across the water he heard a beautiful flute melody floating through the mist. He awoke and tried to emulate this song on his shakuhachi. After falling asleep again he returned to the same dream and heard yet another melody. After waking he told his master about his dreams. His teacher told him that these were auspicious melodies and that he should always remember and play them. He named the first piece Koku and the second piece Mukaiji. This title means "foggy sea flute melody".

I try to play this piece in the same spirit of emptiness (koku) as Dogen compared to the full moon reflected on the water.

I encourage my students that to play this piece well they must practice it beside an ocean or lake on a misty evening. Only then will they understand, and express this feeling in their playing. I hope the listener can, through my humble performance, have some feeling of the dream that Kichiku-Zenji had so many centuries ago.

3. Jinbo Sanya

Like "Tsuru no Sugomori" there are many pieces with the title "Sanya". Depending how the title is written, it can have different meanings. One suggests a Sanskrit origin related to the word "samaja" or assembly. Another suggests that it might be related to the word "sammai" or "samadhi" which means a deep stage of meditation. It may also be pronounced "san'ya" which means safe birth or safe delivery. The most common interpretation is " Three Valleys " and is meant to evoke the voice of the "long, broad tongue of Buddha echoing through the mountain valleys".

This work "Jinbo Sanya" is an arrangement of some earlier Sanya pieces by the famous 17th century player Jinbo Masonusuke. Jinbo was a very skilled player who developed several works to a high level of artistry. This work is very dramatic, technically demanding and requires intense focus and concentration to perform well. It represents one most superb examples of shakuhachi honkyoku and is a favorite piece of many players including my teacher. Every player has one or two pieces with which they develop a special relationship. After many years of practice certain pieces begin to express the true nature of the player and it is at this moment that the piece becomes reborn. We call this experience " Honnin non Kyoku" which is usually translated as "own self piece". Not in the sense of ego self but as expressing one's original self. The piece then in a real sense becomes the player's true piece.

4. Mujushin Kyoku

This piece has been described as the seminal work of the great shakuhachi master, Jin Nyodo. It was said to have been "born" and not composed during Jin Nyodo's trip to mainland China around 1940. Jin called the piece "shokyoku" or born piece because it developed naturally out of some improvisations and not by conscious effort.

The title is from the Diamond Sutra and is derived from the term "mujo-shin". It describes a state where one leaves home, or as Dogen would describe, body and mind drops away. This term was also used by Ikkyu. Jin Nyodo stated that he could not pretend to reach such a lofty state so he used the term Muju-shin, which has a similar but less elevated meaning. He interprets the meaning as "'just when one has no place to dwell, such a spirit is born".

My Dojo "Mujuan" takes it's name from this title and is a branch of the school founded by Yodo Kurahashi, Jin's student and my teacher's father.

The piece is loosely based on patterns found in the earlier works "Sashi", "Sanya" and "Ajikan", and is a profound and moving composition. It contains many difficult techniques and rises to a higher pitch level than most pieces of this type. This is Jin Yodo's most important work and embodies the highest ideals of the shakuhachi tradition. I feel very fortunate to have inherited not only this piece but more importantly to have a direct connection to the lineage of Jin Nyodo through my teacher and to have the opportunity to establish a branch of Mujuan shakuhachi dojo in the USA.


5. Shingetsu

Shingetsu is said to evoke the feeling one has when we see a full clear autumn moon. It is a remarkably calm and lucid work which utilizes a very soft pulse like a breathing pattern similar to the the Komi-buki or panting breath of the Nezasaha but much softer and less pronounced.

Little is known about the origin of this piece but it comes down to us in the Watazumi tradition, a famous 20th century player with a very dynamic and improvisational style.

The title literally means heart/moon and as such represents the true experience of the mind of enlightenment. The feeling of "samadhi" has been compared to the brightness of a full moon in many of the Buddhist texts and this is the same state we strive for in our suizen practice. On this recording the piece is played on a very long shakuhachi which creates a deep contemplative mood.


6. Renpo-ken Tsuru no Sugomori

Of all the Sugomori or cranes' nest pieces, this one is by far the most complex and programmatic. It was preserved at two temples, Rempo-ken in Fukushima and Kisen-ken and was transmitted from Jimbo Masonusuke through his disciple Hikichi Kozan to Jin Nyodo. This piece is sometimes called "Jimbo Sugomori". Jimbo also arranged other several pieces: of course "Jimbo Sanya", perhaps a version of "Sanya" from Echigo prefecture and some existing Sugomori pieces. This piece also has the title "Hikyoku Sugomori" (Sacred Sugomori).

More than any other Sugomori piece this one carefully describes the life of the crane. It is divided into sections describing the cranes' arrival , searching for a nesting place then rejoicing on finding a nest site. This is followed by the nest building section and the hatching of the eggs. In the nest building section a technique is employed which involves moving the head in wide circles, (mawashi-yuri) creating a series of connecting waves in the melody. This is actually the same physical motion that mimics the motion the crane makes with her head as she spreads the reeds and nesting material in a circle to build and smooth out the nest. I was fortunate to be able to observe this action carefully as I recorded the whooping cranes at close quarters for this piece. Only after this observation did I truly understand how to do the technique correctly. In this case, the sound is not as important as the motion of the player.

A later section using the technique "koro-koro" (a rapid alternating trill pattern) portrays the love between the parents and child, with the cranes learning to fly. A sound called "Tamane" uses a kind of flutter tonguing or gargling sound which is very similar to the soft vocalizations that cranes use to keep in constant contact while they are looking for food or nesting material. The young cranes finally take off and leave the nest. The parents then give gratitude to heaven for their young and as their lives draw to a close the young greave as the parent cranes die in peace and satisfaction.

The first half of this piece is similar to "Echigo Sanya" and so this work is also called "Sanya Sugomori". It represents the pinnacle of shakuhachi honkyoku and contains almost every technique known in my tradition and also some that are unique to this work. I have spent many years studying, recording and observing the cranes at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, at their nesting site in south Texas and in southern Arizona. On this recording, if you listen carefully you can hear a pair of the rare and magnificent Whooping cranes building a nest amid the calls of frogs and humming insects. The male was wading in water close to me protecting his mate. Listen for the soft vocalizations between the two Whooping cranes near the beginning of the piece. You will also hear Sandhill cranes flying low upon returning to the safety of their flock after a long day foraging in the Arizona farmland south of Tuscon.

Being close to these beautiful birds has been one of the most amazing experiences in my lifetime and I am sure the ancient composers of these "nesting crane" pieces were deeply moved to capture the feelings evoked when watching these fantastic birds that have flown the same skies for millions of years. My deepest concern is that without careful management of our wetlands and increasing awareness of our real place in the world, future generations may never again hear the cry, nor see the wonderful dance of some of the most beautiful creatures on the planet.

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