Thursday, September 11, 2008

Infatuated by shakuhachi

I had never heard of Riley Lee until I saw him profiled on a recent TV show. The segment was about the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese flute made from bamboo.

According to his website, Riley Lee began playing the shakuhachi in Japan in 1971, studying with Chikuho Sakai until 1980, and has been a student of Katsuya Yokoyama since 1984. He was given the rank of Dai Shihan (grand master) in 1980.

He is Australia's only Grand Master of the shakuhachi, and one of the few outside Japan.

As well as my love of all things Japanese, I’m always on the lookout for relaxation music to play during massages (or for my own use!).

The shakuhachi music was just amazing! I was transfixed by the hauntingly beautiful sounds produced by such a seemingly simple instrument.

Lee’s website says:

“It has no pads like those on a western flute. There is no reed, like on a clarinet or saxophone, and no strings like on a guitar or violin. It doesn't even have a mouthpiece like the recorder. There are no mechanisms inside it that make the sound, like those inside a piano or organ.

With only five finger holes, (four in the front of the flute and one in the back for a thumb), it has less finger holes than almost any other common wind instrument, including the penny whistle. Yet despite its simple construction, the shakuhachi in the hands of a master can produce an unbelievable wide range of sounds. It can be as
expressive as the human voice.”

I was inspired to download an album from iTunes straight after the show – I chose Rainforest Reverie which combines Lee’s shakuhachi music with the natural sounds of a rainforest. You can hear a small snippet of one of the tracks here.

I love the music – it’s so calming, and perfect for anyone living in a bustling city who needs to get a sense of space and peace.

The shakuhachi grand master is as prolific as is he is talented. He teaches and performs frequently, and was the Artistic Director for the recent World Shakuhachi festival 2008, which brought together as many as 400 shakuhachi enthusiasts.

I was also fascinated to learn that Lee has developed a series of exercises that are designed to create an awareness of one's breath while improving the strength and control of the muscles used in breathing. His workshops last from one to six hours, and single sessions have been attended by as many as two thousand people. Wow!

If you’re stressed out and needing a good dose of relaxation, check out the magical music of Riley Lee’s shakuhachi.


Anonymous said...

I saw first hand how amazing Riley Lee is in a performance with Taikoz recently.
The energy in the room was more than electric, it flowed through every cell of my body. Simply perfect and inspiring.

Being with others who live their life's passion certainly influences your state of being!

Enjoyed reading your articles, Thanks


Venti said...

Hi Monica, thanks for your post. I can only imagine how inspiring it must have been seeing Riley Lee performing live - I've yet to experience that myself, but look forward to doing so.

I recently downloaded a collaborative album between Riley Lee and Matthew Doyle - it's a combination of Lee's shakuhachi and Doyle's didgereedoo music...truly haunting!