Following up my previous post on the ‘speed of time’, I have resurrected this reflection, which has been sitting in my draft folder for a while… This post originally developed into another reflection on time and objectives, which I have cut as I would like to expand it somewhere else.
What is the value of time in Noh training?
Learning a ‘unit’ of Noh, be it a line or a movement, requires time. Just as much as a grammar rule requires time and practice in order to be absorbed and successfully used. A grammar rule of a second language could be explained and analysed in detail, it could be compared with a similar rule in our native language, but would this be enough to say that we are in command of that rule? The typical mistake of the inexperienced learner is using a piece of grammar, an idiomatic expression, a certain word, in a context that is not suitable for its use. In most cases, there is no way to learn the correct usage of a given expression if not by paying much attention when native speakers use it, and by attempting to use it, and learning from our mistakes. All in all, learning a language requires the necessary time for embodiment, not mere memorisation. Memorising the grammar book will not allow us to speak correctly.
What, then, is the purpose of learning something ‘intensively’ (i. e. concentrating one’s efforts over a short period of time)? What is the ‘intensive’ quality of time? What do we gain by that ‘intensive’ quality? In the case of Noh theatre, I think that time plays a crucial role in the learning process. There is much to say about this.
There are two main types of chant in Noh theatre: tsuyogin or ‘strong’, ‘dynamic’ chant and yowagin, or ‘weak’, ‘melodic’ style. As the name suggests, the first is powerful and energetic, while the second is melodic. Tsuyogin emphasises rhythm, while yowagin emphasises melody. In Yashima, the play I am memorising at the moment, tsuyogin is used to describe battle scenes, while yowagin is used to render more poetic descriptions. While yowagin consists of a melody, tsuyogin basically centres on a single tone, pitching up as the phrase progresses, which is then embellished by a number of glides. In my experience, tsuyogin is the hardest type of chant to master.
To the difficulty of chanting well, another problem adds up: that of memorisation. Yowagin melodic chant gives a lot of cues because it follows a recognisable melody. Since we are children we have been taught how to turn sentences or lists of names into little songs in order to memorise better. Same with yowagin. However tsugyogin relies almost entirely on rhythm, and its embellishments do not always follow a predictable pattern. Hence memorisation cannot be helped by melodic cues. In addition, tsuyogin is often chanted fast, as in the narration of a lively action scene.
I don’t know whether this applies to all Noh practitioners, but I find the difference in the effort I have to put in memorising astonishing.
L’International Noh Institute – sezione Italia, è lieta di annunciare che nei giorni 9 e 10 ottobre la maestra Monique Arnaud terrà due lezioni di prova aperte al pubblico sulla recitazione ed il canto del teatro Noh presso lo spazio Continuum di Via Stendhal, 43 a Milano, ingresso libero dalle ore 15:00 alle ore 19:30. Sarà un’occasione di incontro e di riflessione per approfondire la propria conoscenza e la propria cultura del mondo Giapponese … Read More
This year’s INI International Noh Institute – Keiunkai Taikai, in celebration of 50 years of stage life of Master Actor Udaka Michishige, has come to a close. It is difficult to draw all the impressions on such a special event in one single post. There are so many aspects and viewpoints it would be necessary to include and, in the attempt to include everything (and everyone) I would end up not doing justice to all of them. I will maintain the very personal take that has been the line of this blog so far.
On the occasion of this Kai I could for the first time take part of the full production of a Noh play, Makiginu, in the role of the tsure. As in a dream, my memories of the performance are blurred and spotty. I stand behind the omaku curtain, in the kagami no ma mirror room, I can appreciate the quality of the lights coming from the stage, through the five colours of the curtain. The lights, and the cries of the hayashi call for my entrance. Although that of the tsure is a subsidiary role, its rather long initial chant substantially contributes to set the mood of the play. I felt invested of this responsibility while treading on the hashigakari for the first time. Slowly pivoting on my feet to face the matsubame pine on the backdrop of the stage, the beats of the drums give room to my chant, as I begin my long trip to Mikumano…
Taking part of a full Noh is a privilege that only a very few foreigners had in the century-old Noh tradition. Infinite gratefulness and deep respect go to those who are teaching me this way: Master-Actor Udaka Michishige, Shihan Rebecca Ogamo-Teele and Monique Arnaud, whose relentless efforts to transmit Noh theatre to foreigners is, I believe, the greatest, unconditional expression of love for the art of Noh.
The program will also include a variety of chant and dance excerpts. Foreign and Japanese students of Udaka Michishige will perform on stage. Information material will be available in English and Japanese.
Place:Kongo Noh Theatre, Kyoto. Subway Karasuma line: get off at Karasuma-Imadegawa (K06), South Exit 6, walk South 300m and find the theatre on the right.
Time: 12 June 2010 (Sat) 1:00pm – 5:30pm.
Fee: Free of charge. The audience is free to come and go quietly.
A reception will follow from 6:30pm (fee: 1000 yen). Come share your impressions on Noh theatre and to talk to the teacher and the performers! Meet us at ‘Tenshokan’（天正館）2nd Fl., Mukadeya-cho 380, Shinmachidori Nishiki-koji-agaru Subway Karasuma-Shijo, Exit 24, walk West, then North at Shijo-Shinmachi (about 5 minutes). Click here for a directions from the Kongo Theatre to Tenshokan.