Tag Archives: chant

Thoughts on the forthcoming Kei’un-kai INI Gala Recital 2016

Next Sunday (August 21st) I will join the Kei’un-kai, INI Taikai Gala Recital celebrating Udaka Michishige’s 70th birthday. I am going to perform in a number of pieces, among which the shimai solo dance excerpt from the Noh Kurama Tengu. Although this is the only piece in which I will perform as a dancer, hence one may think it is the highlight of the day from my point of view, I am more concerned with practising the many other numbers in which I will sing as a member of the jiutai chorus.
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Kongo School chant books, and the program for the forthcoming recital.
As for Kurama Tengu, I have performed the maibayashi (longer excerpt with music) just a couple of weeks ago. For the Taikai recital I will perform the relatively shorter, latter part of the dance as shimai (solo excerpt to the accompaniment of a chorus of four, without music). In the Kongo school this shimai follows the choreography of the hakuto (‘white wig’) variation of the play, featuring complex kata sequences (movements). The play narrates the encounter between the boy Ushiwakamaru, who will later become the General Minamoto no Yoshitsune, and the Great Tengu of Mount Kurama. The Tengu, impressed by Yoshitsune’s courage, promises to train the boy in the martial arts, preparing him for his future battles against the rival Heike family, which he will eventually defeat. The difficulty of this dance lies in being able to make strong yet controlled movements, expressing the power as well as the stateliness and supernatural nature of the elder Tengu.
However, as I mentioned before, my major concern is not this dance, but rather the various other pieces in which I will serve as chorus member. Looking at the program from the beginning (9:00am) I am slated to sing in
  1. The chorus for Kami-uta, the recitation of the chant from the ritual performance Okina, often performed at the beginning of celebrations such as an important birthday. Difficulties: here Kami-uta serves as ‘opening ritual’ – we will perform with formal kamishimoIt is an honour for me to partake in this recitation.
  2. Immediately after Kami-uta I will perform in the su-utai solo chant recitation of the full Noh Shunkan, recounting the story of three men exiled to Kikai Island after they failed a coup attempt against Taira no Kiyomori. Two of them (tsure) are pardoned, while Shunkan (shite) has to remain on the island alone. I am going to take the role of one of the tsure, Taira no Yasuyori. However, in su-utai recitations singers chanting the part of shite, waki or tsure are also singing in the chorus. Difficulties involved in this: 1. Yasuyori and Naritsune (the other shite) get to sing long sections in unison. 2. Yasuyori reads the pardon letter – highly dramatic scene. 3. The chorus part in this play is particularly difficult.
  3. Chorus for a round of 12 different shimai. Difficulties: 1. shimai chant typically is faster and with shorter pauses compared to chant performed with music, putting more emphasis on adjusting the tempo to the shite’s acting. Without musicians as reference, being able to follow the chorus leader is crucial. 2. being the lowest in rank, I will be sitting upstage right, the farthest from the chorus leader (sitting upstage center-left). It will be more difficult to isolate and follow the leader’s voice while hearing one more voice to my left, as well as while producing a loud voice myself. 3. this round of shimai consists of basic pieces, but still, twelve assorted dances is a good number. It will be important to be able to quickly switch from mood to mood.
  4. Chorus for the maibayashi from the noh Tomoe, the only warrior piece in which the shite is a woman. Difficulties: 1. Tomoe is a long piece, featuring chant sections that range from melodic to dynamic, from poetic description to energetic narration. 2. A chorus for a maibayashi is typically composed of four members, meaning that individual mistakes are clearly heard. 3. Once more my position is the farthest from the chorus leader, yet the closest to the flute player (in this case Sugi Ichikazu-sensei, one of the highest ranking flute players in Kyoto), who will be able to hear every syllable slip or rhythmical inaccuracy. Sugi-sensei listening to my chant is on my mind every time I practice Tomoe 🙂
  5. Chorus for the full Noh Sesshoseki – nyotai (The Death Stone). This is the second time I sing in the chorus for this play, which is very useful as I understand the development of the mood of the play better. Difficulties: 1. downside of having sung the play already: my position is not the lowest. I am now sitting to the extreme left of the front row, meaning that I am the closest to the audience, as well as to the waki who will be sitting in the downstage left corner for most of the play. Luckily during our last training session in Matsuyama I could practice the chorus chant alone, while another students and Udaka-sensei would play the drums. Thiswas very useful for memorizing the ‘ma’, or pauses between phrases.
All in all, this is quite a bit of work for a non-professional like me. I am spending most of my practice time memorising chant. At the same time, I am very grateful to have so many chances to sing in such a great variety of pieces. 頑張ります!I’ll do my best!

On Noh chant and responsibility

On Wednesday 25 June 2014 I took part to the event  Wayō no Saikai, which I have blogged about here. In the original plan Udaka Tatsushige, my teacher’s eldest son, was supposed to sing and dance Noh excerpts, as representative of the Japanese classical repertoire. Unfortunately Tatsushige-sensei was unable to make it to the performance so his father, Michishige-sensei, took his place. I took part in various Noh pieces that were performed during the evening, but what I was concerned the most with was the shimai dance excerpt from the Noh Yamamba, for which I was supposed to sing as the only jiutai chorus singer.

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Shimai: ‘Yamamba’. Shite: Udaka Michishige. Photo: Stéphane Barbery.

Until now I have only sung in jiutai with other chanters – from a minimum of 2-3 to a maximum of 8, depending on the situation. This has been the first time for me to be the only singer in a shimai dance. When singing in a jiutai the most important thing is memorise the text and make sure that you follow the chorus leader. Ideally you should memorise the text and score perfectly, and sing with confidence while continuously paying attention to the chorus leader. However, if you are a beginner you will probably be told that the most important thing is not to get into other people’s way. In other words, don’t sing too loud, pay extra care to fit into the pauses, etc.

Things will start to change when as your understanding of rhythm, pauses, and fushi embellishments improves. Now you know enough to sing full force, which means that people are actually going to hear you! You won’t be able to hide behind a wall of other voices anymore. This stage is the beginning of a new phase which I feel I have now entered. Maturity means will and capability to be responsible for your own voice: you have to follow the leader but be able to continue singing even if someone makes a mistake. You have to be independent while harmonising with the others.

When I learned that Tatsushige-sensei could not make it to the performance, and that Michishige-sensei, my direct teacher, would stand in his place, I was rather worried: in a usual setting a junior/student like myself would dance, while the senior/teacher would sing. In addition, singing in a solo jiutai means that there is literally nowhere to hide, no one helping in case of emergency. It also means that (obviously) there is no leader to follow. This might have been my only chance in this life to sing as a soloist for Udaka-sensei. So I did it, and it went well. Udaka-sensei’s dance was easy to accompany even if Yamamba is a piece I had only rehearsed twice before the actual performance.

The other day I received the provisional programme for our forthcoming Gala Performance on August 17th (more news to come about this) and I spotted my Japanese name (高谷大悟 – Takaya Daigo) among the four jiutai chanters for a bulk of shimai that other students will dance. This is a position that, in our school, only professional take. A good sign, I think.

[VIDEO] Comparing styles: Kanze and Kongo

People often wonder what differences are there between Noh stylistic schools, or ryū. In this video Kanze actor Katayama Shingo (on the left), and Kongō actor Teshima Kōji (on the right) demonstrate side by side a number of kata that exemplify various differences between shite dance styles. Ō-tsuzumi (hip-drum) player Taniguchi Masayoshi, conducting the experiment, introduces the two styles according to a well-established view of Kanze style as refined, purified from unnecessary movements, and Kongō style as elaborate, focusing on bodily technique. From 19:14 you can watch the performance of the shimai dance excerpt from the Noh Yashima, followed by an analysis of the kata differences. From 30:00 the chant of the kiri final section of Hagoromo is compared. Again, Kanze is thought to be refined while Kongō is dynamic. Ask anyone in the Noh about the differences between these schools and they will most likely say something very similar to this. I have my reservations about what seems to be an oversimplification or even a stereotype, though I understand why marketing requires (over)simplification in order to enhance penetration. Kongō dance is often more theatrical, featuring wide movements, but Kanze dance can be very elaborate, too. If refined means heavily embellished then Kanze chanting style certainly is refined. However I think that, if properly performed, Kongō school’s more essential chanting style is equally sophisticated. Anyway here is the video – you don’t need to know Japanese to enjoy.

(sorry for the HTML code below the video – I don’t seem to be able to delete it when embedding USTREAM…)

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On imitating the teacher’s voice

A small piece of advice for those who practice Noh utai (chant). If your teacher’s voice is that of an elderly man, it doesn’t mean that you have to sound elderly, too. What I think the student should do when imitating the teacher’s chant is grasp its ‘essence’, focusing on melody and rhythm, if possible simplifying the ornaments and embellishments that you might hear and concentrating on the core of the chant. Listen to how young actors (of the same group) chant and try understand what the link between their young voices and that of your teacher is.

Remember that imitating requires a great deal of personal commitment.