Noh Hamlet: the music

You all remember Noh Hamlet, right? Well, I got in touch with Marcus Shinsui Grandon, the guy playing the shakuhachi in those clips online, to ask about the music, and he was kind enough to write today's blog post for me. (Plug: He has shakuhachi CDs for sale and can be reached at marcusgrandon at mac dot com by those interested. He's also a multi-media artist.)

Marcus sez (with links added by me):

In answer to your first question, yes, that is me in the video playing in Noh Hamlet. I've been the shakuhachi player in all the Noh Hamlets that have had shakuhachi since 2001.

Ueda-sensei has a very deep interest in the shakuhachi, especially honkyoku. The first shakuhachi player to play in Noh Hamlet was Akikazu Nakamura who I believe played in just one performance at an outdoor Noh theater in Shizuoka Prefecture sometime before 1994. There's a video tape of this performance somewhere, and the shakuhachi playing was magical.

Ueda Sensei first invited me in 2001 to perform shakuhachi in a production of Noh Hamlet at the Kyoto Seminar House Noh stage outdoor theater held on 10/28/01. That was around the time I was granted my teaching license from the Myōan temple. I played "Mukaiji" in the Myōan style and "Daiwagaku" in the Jin Nyodō style that day. The performance was free and open to the public. As you know, shakuhachi is almost never performed in Noh, and for this performance I actually played from behind the curtain! I sat just offstage. At times I could see the actors as I played by peeking through the side of the curtain. Other times I couldn't see them at all. This was very interesting and comfortable because the audience certainly couldn't see me, a sort of Noh tengai if you will :)

As for Ueda-Sensei's input on the music, he told me at what points in the play that he wanted music, and what kind of feeling the music should express. His decision to use shakuhachi in Noh plays came directly from Kan'ami and Zeami. It is known that they used shakuhachi in Noh plays, though the shakuhachi then most likely was a very different kind than what we use today. After Ueda-sensei told me about this, I began investigate what I could and found further evidence of this fact in the book On the Art of No Drama translated by J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu. In this book, it's written that there was actually a noh play by Kan'ami or Zeami entitled Shakuhachi. Given the Buddhist/Shinto Spiritual roots of Noh theater, that the founders were from Kansai, and the the Myoan Ryu shakuhachi temple is also in the same area, I think that Kan'ami must have been aware of the sound of the Myōan temple shakuhachi tunes. I have no idea if that was the kind of music he used for the plays. As for the exact pieces for Noh Hamlet, well, Ueda-Sensei left that up to me. I studied Hamlet quite a bit and knew the story very well. We also spent a lot time over meals discussing various elements of the play and what we though the characters were thinking, and we rehearsed the morning of the performance.

A few months later Ueda Sensei invited me to play again. This time it was for Noh Hamlet at the All-Japan Shakespeare Conference held at Meisei University in Tokyo on 5/15/02. I played "Chōshi" in the Jin Nyodō style and "Kyorei" in the Myōan style for the first time in Noh Hamlet.

And again a few months after that I performed in Noh Hamlet at a large cultural center in Tokorozawa. This was another free performance for Japanese students. There were several thousand people in attendance, perhaps the largest group I've ever played to. That day I played "Chōshi" and "Daiwagaku" in the Jin Nyodō style, and Myōan's "Kyorei". The third time's a charm. In almost every Noh play containing shakuhachi since then Myōan's "Kyorei" and Jin Nyodō's "Daiwagaku" have been performed. It seems to be the best combination for the scenes with shakuhachi, or the one with which I currently feel most comfortable. When Hamlet sits meditating in Zazen I usually play "Kyorei". That's the scene where the ghost of Ophelia appears and blesses/forgives Hamlet. Ueda sensei feels that honkyoku tunes match perfectly with Noh Hamlet, and I couldn't agree more. I usually play the Myōan Kyorei only in the lower register. The piece does contain parts in both octaves, but for Noh Hamlet because of time, and more because of how the lower register matches the meditation scene, I stay in the lower register.

I have been the shakuhachi player in Noh Hamlet a total of 12 times. We even used shakuahachi in a rendition of Noh Othello once in 2003. At times, I've brought up to two shakuhachi on stage at once. This I learned from Akikazu Nakamura as he had at least two on stage when he played in Noh Hamlet, and that is the only other time that I'm aware shakuhachi has ever been used in a modern Noh play. I generally brought a combination of 1.6, 1.8, 2.0 and I think even a 2.4 (that I borrowed). Most of the time I now use a 2.0 and bring just one flute on stage.

Interestingly shakuhachi was used in the the first English Noh play ever sanctioned by the Kanze school. It was my great honor and privilege to perform "Chōshi" in Jin Nyodo style and Myōan "Kyorei" in that production of Noh Hamlet on 10/15/06 in Miyakojima City in Okinawa. I played a standard 1.8 shakuhachi that day as requested by the Kanze school director. To date this remains one of the major highlights of my shakuhachi playing life.

Also, when the world premiere of Noh Hamlet in Japanese was played in Tokyo using professional Kanze school actors and musicians a shakuhachi was not used since you'd never really find it in use in a Kanze school production. That day, the normal nohkan flute (or maybe a longer one) was used by the Kanze school performer. As I had always been asked to choose the shakuhachi music for the English version of Noh Hamlet, I was very curious to hear what music the Kanze school performer would select. While I'm not exactly sure what piece he played, it sounded very much like "Kyorei" on the nohkan!

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