I’m just now getting back to updating my homepage after a busy few months editing, recording, and defending my dissertation. But, with that all successfully behind me, I’d like to share some of the recordings from our reading of Act I of “A Lawn in the Sky.”
I had a wonderful group of volunteer performers (listed below) for this reading project, all of whom put in several LONG days of rehearsals to get everything sounding as good as it does.
And, of course, many thanks again to Katherine Hollander for producing and “enviable” libretto.
Please enjoy some of the tracks on SoundCloud:
And, as a bonus, here’s my favorite moment in the electronics from Act II:
In his essay on Japanese Aesthetics, Donald Richie explains a three-part formula for classifying the arts, shin-gyou-sou:
“The first term, shin, indicates things formal, slow, symmetrical, imposing. The third is sou and is applied to things informal, fast asymmetrical, relaxed, the second is gyou and it describes everything in between the extremes of the two.”
These three divisions, though, can also all be subdivided in threes, such as shin no sou (the more sou end of shin), shin no gyou (medium-shin), and shin no shin (the highest level of shin).
This piece, for shamisen and live electronics, is dedicated to my friend, Kawamura Shinyu. Shinyu was the first person I met when I arrived in Japan, and it was through him that I came to study the shamisen. Sadly, Shinyu also grappled with bipolar disorder, and took his own life during one of his depressive episodes. Through this piece, I hope to celebrate his life and express my gratitude for his endless kindness, hospitality, and generosity to me.
This last August, I had the chance to help out with a SYLFF project called “Together in Tohoku,” which brought graduate student musicians from three different institutions, (Julliard, the Paris Conservatory, and the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna) to work with children in Japan affected by last year’s earthquake and tsunami.
Rather than going into too much detail on this page, though, SYLFF has just posted my article on the experience here.
If you’re interested there is more background information about the project here.
Also, here’s a performance of Tairyo Utaikomi (mentioned in the article):
It just came up in a conversation with one of my friends, a Japanese jazz musician, that pianist, composer, and big-band leader Toshiko Akiyoshi, wrote a tribute to the Japanese stragglers Hiroo Onoda and Shoichi Yokoi in her piece, “Kyogun” (roughly translating to “solitary soldier”), in her 1974 album of the same name.
(Of course I’m very interested to learn about this piece as I work on my dissertation)
Here are her thoughts on the work from and interview for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Project conducted by Dr. Anthony Brown on June 29, 2008 (apologies for the format, the Smithsonian transcribes these interviews verbatim, with all of the “ums” and “ers,” and, of course, all hyperlinks are my additions):
You know, sometimes the little things have to be triggers… he was talking about … how proud Duke was of being a black American, and his music [was] based on his race, a lot of ‘em, you know: “Black Butterfly,” what have you, “Black and Beige [Tan] Fantasy,” so on, … And that triggered me to, I should look [at] my heritage, ’cause … the normal belief in Japan was, to be Japanese and play jazz was a handicap. That’s the way, that was the normal thinking… [When] I read it I said, “Well, I’m a jazz player; I’ve been playing since I was sixteen years old… I’m not a bad player, I have probably more experience than a lot of young American players, but I have a different heritage.” … Maybe I could try to infuse something; maybe that would be my job.
So, that’s what triggered me, and at the same time, there was a Japanese soldier was discovered in the Philippine jungle. It was nearly thirty years, he didn’t know the war was ended. In fact, I think he has written a book—it’s a very interesting book. But anyway—Lt. Onoda, Second Lieutenant Onoda [Hiro]—and I was writing for the flute piece…. and also at the same time, my father was a student of noh play…he was a student of tsuzumi, which is a Japanese four-headed [drum]. And I always liked the sound, you know. Actually, I like all drums, I guess, but I really liked that sound, and I was thinking it’d be really nice to use that … so I had a tape sent from Japan. This was like a demonstration tape, a demonstration tape for the tsuzumi playing. And they have all kinds of ways of playing; this was the Kanze [-ryū] style of playing [chuckles]. Noh players… It took me … boy, ten years to put them together in one segment… And that was “Kogun”…
At 80 years old, Akiyoshi may have been misremembering things a bit, since I’m not sure that the timeline she suggests quite works out. Yokoi surrendered in January 1972, and Onoda March 1974 (though he was first contacted in February of the same year). Since “Kogun” was released (in Japan) in April 1974. So it seems more likely that Akiyoshi was inspired by Yokoi’s story, not Onoda’s (although she might just have an extremely fast turnaround time in composing), and it seems like it couldn’t have been ten years that she worked with the noh drummers (unless she’s referring to something else taking ten years to “put together”).
Nit-picking aside, it’s a great piece, and a fantastic performance by Akiyoshi’s husband and flutist Lew Tabackin.