Category Archives: Travel

Special moments in special places

Bali Bamboo Music

When in Bali in 1984, I was walking home one night sometime past midnight. In the distant I heard a deep percussive sound that led me behind a few buildings to a covered performance area. It was a full performance of Jegog Bumbung, a dance drama where a cocky young man chased a single woman dancer. She coyly flirted with him until he caught her and then submitted to his charms. After an intermission there was a scream and the man flew out behind the screen in fear chased by his newly married wife who is now obviously in the dominant role. The music was performed by an orchestra of struck bamboo tubes open on one end with a large tongues carved on one side, suspended in frames. The largest of these instruments had pipes at least three metres long. They were accompanied by a number of sets of progressively smaller instruments playing the characteristic Balinese interlocking rhythms. This ensemble of instruments is called Gamelan Grantang. The sound of the big instruments was very round and deep and traveled well in the night air. This performance went on for hours and although I was the only non-Balinese there I sat listening and watching to almost dawn.

Tingklik
Tingklik

A few weeks later, I ran into another version of a bamboo gamelan in a small village close to where I had found a small cabin to rent on the beach (see Bali Night). One morning I again followed music in the air and came upon two men sitting on their porch playing a matched pair of bamboo instruments called tingklik, which looked identical to the smallest of the instruments played in the Gamelan Grantang. Although they played very fast interlocking parts, they didn’t seem to tire as they played for almost an hour.

The older man invited me to sit down, served me tea and they continued to play. After playing for a while, he asked me if I would like to try the instrument, and handed me the mallets. Although the tingklik is about a dozen hollow tuned bamboo tubes suspended from a small frame the technique for playing it is quite complex. The left hand plays a rather simple melody on the lower tubes, while the right hand plays the rapid intricate patterns following the melody while interlocking with the second instrument.

On just hearing the piece, I was only able to remember a few notes on the right hand before making a mistake at which point my impromptu teacher, took the mallets from my hand and played the piece again, all fifteen minutes of it! He then calmly handed the mallets back to me and asked me to try again. I only managed to play a few more notes correctly before running into problems, and again the mallets were politely taken from my hands, and the full fifteen-minute piece was played again. This process continued well into the afternoon, with my teacher patiently playing the full piece again and again as I muddled my way through it.

Obviously this was a normal for my teacher, and he seemed to have all the time and patience in the world. After many hours, I was exhausted and somewhat frustrated, and we sat for a while to talk and drink tea. While we talked his five year-old son picked up a mallet and slowly but accurately played the whole piece. I realized that I had the wrong teacher, as it would have been easier for me to learn from the five year-old! When I asked how long my teacher had been teaching his son, he replied “Oh I haven’t taught him anything, he has just heard me play so much, He knows all the pieces by heart.”

Our modern world doesn’t allow us to have the time or patience for this type of musical transmission, and I didn’t have the time to stay and study this amazing instrument, although I really wanted to. I imagine that growing up from birth hearing these sounds would implant the music far deeper in your psyche than any other form of learning. Maybe I was born in the wrong time.

I was so intrigued by these instrumental discoveries that I explored more and found that there were pockets of unique music and instruments everywhere in Bali. The two tingklik played together is often referred to as Gamelan Rindik, although a full Rindik often uses a suling, and there is also another large bamboo ensemble called Gamelan Jegog that uses a four-note scale. I have recently learned that there are versions in Java as well. (see: Aural Archipelago)

Mystery gamelan
Mystery gamelan

A month after my impromptu lesson, I traveled to a small village in northern Bali to discover a single bamboo xylophone that was quite different in shape than any other that I had seen on the island. It had bamboo slats of different sizes for keys and bamboo tube resonators. I asked some local people where the instrument was from. “From here,” they replied, “it’s native to our village.” “Do you know anybody who can play it?” I asked. “There is no-one left who knows how to play it,” they replied, “the last person died a year ago.” “Are there any recordings or books on how to play it?” I asked. “No,” was the reply, “nothing at all. The music is lost.” Hearing this was a shock and it deeply saddened me. Since then I have given a good portion of my life to support and preserve traditional instruments and music wherever I could.

Jogeg Bambung with the  Gamelan Grantang:

Gamelan Rindik:

The four note scale Gamelan Jegog:

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Rubber Time in Java

Indonesia was my first experience immersing myself in a new culture, and it opened my mind to a world of thousands of different musical perspectives. This is where my musical education kicked into high gear.java rebab

I arrived in Java in time to attend a performance of an ancient court gamelan at the old palace in Jogjakarta on Eid, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The courtyard was filled with big crowd eating and socializing. I was not surprised by the casualness of the event, as I had attended other events in Bali that were also a combination of ritual ceremony, formal concert, and casual social gathering.

This balance of formal and casual was also present in the music. Gamelans are performed in interlocking parts at a slow to moderate speed in Java and at a lightening speed in Bali. Yet, that day I heard an old piece that was far slower than I had ever heard before. So slow in fact that there was a repeating section where a number of musicians that in theory should hit a note at the same time, but in practices they all hit the note at a slightly different time, creating a sort of haphazard staggered effect. This was a shock to my organized western mind and I initially thought they were a bit sloppy. But as they continued to play, I began to hear the beauty in this effect as it sounded very much like rainfall.

The gamelan orchestra was split into two parts on either side of the courtyard, and would play sometimes separately and sometimes together. After going back and forth between them for a while I decided to just sit on one side and listen. I sat in the shade very close to the gong player, and had a good view of the orchestra. In some pieces the gong is played quite often, while in others the gong cycle is very long and the gong is seldom heard. I was watching the gong player during one of the latter pieces, where the time between gong strikes was almost ten minutes. The player struck the gong, and then casually turned around to his friend behind him and started a conversation, he then lit a cigarette, talked for a while longer and then got up and walked off. I saw him occasionally walking through the crowd stopping to talk for a while and then disappearing again. Hearing the gong cycle coming to an end I noticed him casually return and sit down, but with his back turned to the gong. He started talking passionately to his friends while pulling out his lunch and beginning to eat. He seemed to be oblivious to his rapidly approaching cue, as he became further involved with his conversation and meal. I became quite anxious at his apparent lack of concern and wondered if he knew how close his cue was, and there it was, and he hadn’t heard it! I was surprised no-one called to him to quickly hit the gong when he stuffed some food in his mouth to empty his hand, reached for the mallet, and casually leaned over and hit the gong over his shoulder at the exact “right” late moment. The mother gong is often played after the end of the rhythmic cycle, which in the west we would consider late. Sometimes in Indonesian music such a musical marker might be far later than a western musical mind would ever expect, and in this piece it was even later still.

There is an expression in Indonesia called “rubber time” as time is a very relative concept there, stretching like rubber, and this certainly applies to music there. That day I realized that the strict adherence to time so important in the western world was not always necessary for music.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Gamelan Stream – Environment in Bali

My first trip overseas to research music in 1984 included two months on the Indonesian island of Bali, and then another month in Java. At the time Bali was a cultural goldmine. From the very first day, I was surrounded by an array of amazing styles of traditional music. I heard gamelan classes at the nearby gamelan school during the day and gamelan performances at every night, punctuated by street processions, and impromptu performances even in the middle of the night. Throughout the island there were regular ketchak monkey chants, dance dramas, and local ceremonies. In fact at times there was so many performances of traditional music that it was hard to escape it.

bali log drumOn one very hot day, I decided to get away from the heat of Ubud and followed a small stream up into the trees a few kilometres from the town. I eventually came to a few small pools of water situated by a small temple. It was such a picturesque spot that I spent most of the day lounging by these pools. I was pleased to finally get away from the insistent sounds of the Ubud gamelans. Sporadically throughout the day I thought I heard a short melody of a popular gamelan piece being repeated over and over again in the distance. Thinking it strange that someone would be practicing gamelan so far from town, I decided to investigate. I walked all around the area trying to find where the sound was coming from, but music was elusive, it would fade in and out. If I thought I had traced it in one direction, then it would seem to come from another. Finally after about an hour of searching I found the source. It was not a gamelan; it was the stream! The water falling over small rocks sounded exactly like the short gamelan melody I had been hearing, and in combination with the rhythmic chorus of afternoon insects mimicked a full small ensemble!

Back in Ubud I started to listen to the local sounds in a new way. I found that the rhythms and melodies in the music often mirrored the sounds of the environment, especially the insects. This became even more obvious in Java, where I found different insect sounds and local traditional music again structurally reflected aspects of the environmental sounds. I thought this was fascinating. I also found that the sounds of Bali and Java are similar but different. An example is the small lizards found in almost every Indonesian house climbing the walls eating insects are called geckos in Bali, and named for the sound they make “ge-ko.” In Java they are called tokay, for their call “to-kay.”

Another new sound in Bali I encountered when I was talking with a friend. I heard a loud buzzing sound approaching. I turned and saw a very large fist-sized beetle slowly flying through the air. Its body was too large for it’s inefficient wings, so once it is airborne, it cannot turn quickly. If you are in its way, it will hit you. Fortunately it makes so much noise with its efforts to fly that anyone in its path is startled by its approaching roar, and has plenty of time to gauge its flight path and step out of the way. In fact the beetle flies so slowly that it is easy to observe it in detail, if you could stand the noise enough to get close to it!

Walking along the beach one day I came upon long bamboo poles holding up fishnets, each pole had a small section shaved to create a small rectangular hole with sharp edges that acted like reeds. When the wind blew the poles produced a flute-like timbre, beautiful but also somewhat eerie. Longer versions of these poles with red banners were placed around graveyards to keep away spirits. Yet when the wind blew through the poles sounding more like the voices of the spirits themselves.

This awakening to sound in Indonesia was exciting. I found that the environment, sound, music and culture there were quite different from anything else I had experienced before.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Studying With Intangible Cultural Asset #23 Park Gui Hee 박귀희

In 1987 I had the great fortune to be a student with Park Gui Hee 박귀희, the first person to hold ​the position as Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 23 for kayageum sanjo and byeongchang. Kayageum is a long zither with twelve silk strings and movable bridges. Traditionally, the instrument is plucked with the fingers of the right hand while the sound is manipulated by pressing the strings to the left of the bridges with the left hand. Sanjo is a solo improvisational form, while byeongchang is a vocal form accompanied by kayageum.

As I explained in my previous blog on Korean shijo, Kim Duk Soo, the leader of Samul Nori introduced me to Park Gui Hee while I was in Korea between concerts on an Asian tour. I was already playing the Chinese zheng, the parent of the Asian long zithers, so Duk Soo thought this would be a good fit.

Park Gui HeeThe daily routine at Park Gui Hee’s studio was for the students to start practicing well before she arrived. Once there she would spend one on one time with selected students working on the details of the piece they were learning. This was the traditional method of aural/oral transmission, there was no written music used. The teacher played, the students copied and memorized. Learning a piece with this method takes time. Rather than just learning what note to play, every aspect of each note is learned all at once, including its timbre, timing, expression, dynamic, and inner motivation. The students have to listen with every aspect of their being to understand the depth and meaning of the music, and to fully commit to its expression. This was very challenging.

On my first day as a junior student I was introduced to Park Gui Hee, and then explained who I was and what I wanted to achieve. After some discussion I was introduced to a senior student who was to teach me the fundamentals. I was shown the basic right hand picking techniques, which were not that different from what I knew on the zheng. Next came the most idiosyncratic right hand technique for the kayageum. The index finger plucks a note and then the same string is flicked with the nail of the middle finger and index finger in rapid succession. This is accomplished by tucking the index finger behind the thumb as if to flick a piece of dust, and then the middle tucked behind the index in the same manner. Performed properly this technique creates a roll or type of tremolo that can vary in speed and dynamic.

My instructor demonstrated this technique to me and then went through it slowly so I understood it. It was very challenging, as I had never used my fingers in that way before. I fumbled terribly. After a while of my struggle to get a handle on this technique, my instructor stopped me and said, “This is an essential technique for the kayageum and it takes well over a year to learn. Without it, we cannot teach you more. So I will teach you a basic piece for the rest of today, but your lessons are finished. You are welcome to return to listen at any time.” That was on a Friday.

I decided that I didn’t want my lessons to end, so I spent every waking moment of the weekend practicing this essential right hand technique. That meant I ate with my left hand while practicing the technique, a somewhat messy affair at first that got better. I practiced while reading; I practiced while taking buses, grocery shopping, and even visiting friends, pretended I had some kind of nervous tick. Gradually, I began to conquer the technique and by Sunday night could perform it on the kayageum. Monday morning I arrived back at the studio and sat down in front of my student teacher. She looked at me questioningly and I put a kayageum in my lap and demonstrated my newly mastered technique. Her jaw dropped and she screamed! All the other students came rushing over and saw my doing the technique and were as equally shocked, “That’s not possible!” they remarked. “How did you do that? It took me two years to learn that.” I explained that I was a professional musician and practiced non-stop.

Hearing of this Park Gui Hee reconvened my lessons, and I was then taken through the left hand techniques. Korean music utilizes a wide variety of vibrato, many of which are not mere ornamentation but fundamental notes in constant motion. Korean folk music uses a modal structure called tori, which designates the five main tones of the scale. Often one or two of these is always played with a moderate or very deep vibrato. Then another note in the mode will be a falling note that descends from the original pitch, and is always played as such. These moving pitches all have an emotional characteristic that is must be expressed properly and is often the subject of work with the teacher.

I met with Park Gui Hee once a week to demonstrate my progress and she would correct some things and then give my student teacher detailed instructions in what to do for my next lessons. The learning curve was very high and the schedule grueling. I remember Park Gui Hee working with one student for a number of hours on just two lyrics of a piece, both of which were “sarang,” meaning love. The first rose slightly expressing the joy of love, while the second descended with a complex convoluted vibrato, voicing the pain of lost love. The student could easily reproduce the first lyric, but the second the teacher was very fussy about, with the student copying the teacher’s example repeatedly for hours on end. This student worked only on these two sung words for months, which was the level of commitment to detail demanded in the studio.

Park Gui Hee lived close to the studio in an old Korean courtyard Manor. She lived in a large multi-storied house in the middle of the square courtyard surrounded by a wall on all four sides, with a large gate on the southeast corner. The inside of the walls were lined with small sleeping rooms on three sides, and the kitchen and bathing rooms on the south end. Except for the house, the rest of the compound was turned into a yogwan, a Korean traditional style B&B. I lived in one of the rooms. The rooms lining the wall varied in size, but the majority of rooms were only large enough for two people to sleep on the multi-layered varnished paper floor. Each had sliding paper doors with a small entrance way. There were no chairs only cushions on the floor, the bedding was laid out at night and rolled up in the morning. The rooms were breezy, which was a good thing as they were heated with coal fired hot water heaters in the floor, and many people died each year from coal gas seeping into the rooms. Although the grounds were totally surrounded by city buildings the walls blocked a large amount of city sounds, and so the yogwan was a very peaceful place to stay.

Park Gui Hee gave private lessons in her house so every evening the courtyard was filled with the sounds of kayageum byeongchang. I spent from six to eight hours a day taking lessons and practicing in the studio, then came back to my small room to practice a few more hours, while listening to the lessons coming through the walls every evening. This constant exposure felt like a total immersion in the genre, cementing the music deep into my soul. Listening constantly to soaring voices sitting on the razor’s edge between a cry of pain and a cry of joy, performed with such commitment and passion, was an education unlike any I had ever experienced before. It was like being in a constant state of ecstasy, so much so that I often had to improvise quietly along with the lessons next door to give voice to my own ecstatic expression.

I felt like I was in two worlds. I would walk out the gate into the modern chaos of Seoul. This was the time a student unrest, so there was often a lot of tear gas in the air, and I learned to avoid approaching student riots by ducking into a subway station and taking the train back behind the riot, to find shopkeepers opening their shops and sweeping bricks and stones away from their doors. I would return to my yogwan and enter old Korea again, sit on the floor of my room listening to the lesson next door while eating an evening meal of rice, vegetable and kimchi, and a few hours of practice before sleep.

My time in Korea was too short, as I would have needed years to live and study all that I wanted to on the kayageum, and life didn’t take me in that direction. However, what I did learn was profound. Korean music is a balance of opposites and extremes: heaven and earth, male and female, joy and pain, tradition and innovation, silence and sound, Confucianism and shamanism, composition and improvisation, order and chaos. Park Gui Hee’s lessons pushed me deeper into my musical soul, freeing me to create with all of my being at every moment. As I continued to study Korean music I have found a deeper balance within myself, allowing me to express my wildest passions while maintaining a calm still centre.

Korean traditional music is in my opinion one of the world’s richest musical treasures, and essential study for anyone forging new directions in creative music and self-expression. I highly recommend it. It can change your life.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Park Kiok 박기옥 Shijo in Korea, Kim Duk Soo of Samul Nori

In 1986, I became good friends with Kim Duk Soo 김덕수 the leader of the famous Korean percussion group Samul Nori. The group spent quite a bit of time in Vancouver at Expo 86, at which I was very active as a composer, performer and producer.

In 1987, I was invited to perform in Korea and the Philippines, but had almost two months of down time between the performances. I asked Kim Duk Soo if he could set up some lessons in traditional Korean music for me. He arranged lessons on kayageum with the Intangible Cultural Asset Park Gui Hee 박귀희, which I will talk of in another post. Duk Soo also arranged for me to study with the shijo, ancient sung poetry, teacher Park Kiok 박기옥 that had a studio in the same building as Samul Nori in Seoul.

Duksoo
Kim Duk Soo at Chan Centre, Vancouver

Kim Duk Soo thought that through shijo I would learn the foundation for Korean music, notably the moving tones, or pitches in constant motion. In western terms this is like a highly expressive vibrato that changes in depth of tonal variance, speed, and intensity. Rather than ornamentation this is an essential and defining element of Korean music. Some pitches in a mode are always performed in motion and are never static.

My teacher was in his seventies and spoke no English whatsoever, and I knew only tourist Korean. Everyday we would sit on mats on the floor facing each other for the lesson. This is not so unusual in Korea while studying music, except that he was always impeccably dressed in a three-piece suit! For the first few weeks, our lessons went very well, although this was the first time that I had taken any kind of formal voice lessons. After a while I noticed that my teacher was disturbed by something. He kept repeating the meaning of the piece to me and even brought in someone to translate the piece so I understood it fully. Still somehow I was missing something in the lessons and he was struggling with how to tell me. I tried to become as diligent a student as possible thinking I was missing an important detail.

Normally when I study with a teacher I imitate them exactly to the point of copying the way they sit move breath, and every detail of their playing technique. This I did with renewed diligence, trying to find what I was missing, I mimicked my teacher almost exactly. Yet, he became increasingly frustrated and on numerous occasions he would crawl around on the floor in his business suit miming the story in an effort to try to get me to realize something about it. Soon after we were at an impasse, both quite frustrated at what I did not understand.

The time was approaching that I had to leave Korea, and even though I had not understood this vital part of his teaching, he asked me to come and perform at a gathering of the shijo teachers at his house. I arrived on the appointed day a bit late, as there was a meal involved, and as I was a vegetarian, I didn’t want to embarrass my teacher by not being able to eat anything. My teacher lived up five flights of stairs, and although I was quite winded from climbing them, as soon as I arrived my teacher asked me to sit down and sing for everyone right away. There were about eighty teachers there from all around Korea and including the Intangible Cultural Asset. They split up into two circles, one for the junior teachers and one for the senior teachers, which I was told to join.

Shijo teach on left
Shijo teacher Park Kiok on left

We started by me singing the piece I had learned and although I was winded and didn’t sing it very well, they were all very supportive of my effort. My teacher then said something to them that I didn’t understand, which sparked some discussion and then it seemed a decision was reached. One by one they each sang a piece. This took hours, as some of the pieces were long, but the time went quickly as I was totally fascinated by the range and depth of expression in the music. This was the first time I had ever heard anyone other than my teacher sing, and there were as many different styles and approaches to the music as there were singers. Many times I heard the song I sang repeated, but each time it sounded so different that at times it was almost unrecognizable. The last two people to sing were sitting beside me in the circle. The first was the Intangible Cultural Asset, whom I was told was 101 years old at the time, or so they thought. His voice was so quiet we had to strain to hear. He sang the same song that I had, but it was remarkably different, with a much deeper range of expression and moving tone than all the others. The person next to me again sang another variation of the song I had learned.

I realized that I was going to have to sing it again, and that this was the final master lesson. I was to interpret the song, not to mimic my teacher’s version but to express it in my way, to put the emotion within the song that the story expressed. I took some time to process all the all the techniques I had just heard and let my subconscious choose the appropriate technique for the emotion of the song. I let go of worrying solely about technique. I sang the song again, this time using the depth of my emotion to freely choose from the techniques that I had just heard.

Everyone roared their approval as I finished the piece, some leaping to their feet. However, for me the only person that mattered was my teacher, I looked at him kind of timidly, wondering what his reaction to my reckless version of the piece would be. He looked at me directly, his face totally expressionless, then he nodded once emitting a very sharp loud grunt of approval, turned and started talking to his peers. That was all I got from him in praise, but I knew I had finally understood that important point, I had to feel the music and sing it from my soul, and not just imitate. I felt glad that I finally understood while also honouring him by doing a good job in front of his peers.

Shijo taught me that playing the notes perfectly every time is not where music lies. Music is found in one’s soul. Techniques are a means to craft sound, and the more acquired, the more shapes the music can have. However, the perfect performance is not how well the technique is used, but how freely the deep inner voices of the musician can choose and utilize techniques to gain total freedom.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Gagaku and Sho in Japan

Visiting Kyushu, the southern island of Japan in 1989, I was hoping to find a place to study Gagaku, Japanese court music. I was interested in playing the sho, a bamboo mouth organ used in this genre. Fortunately, I discovered that a new Gagaku-do (a place to perform or practice Gagaku) had just been built at the Shogyoji temple in Kasugayama just south of Fukuoka. This was a spectacular new hall that had a permanent stage for Gagaku and Bugaku (the accompanying dance). They were also setting up a school to teach Gagaku and were very excited to accept me as a student.

I began my studies with a very patient young teacher who taught in the traditional, slow but methodical way. After a month of playing only one chord, I was honoured to be invited to take part in a special weekend workshop being led by Ono Tada Aki, the National Treasure for sho. Attending the workshop, I was surprised to find Ono-sensei (sensei is an honourific term for teacher) taking an interest in my playing. I guess he sensed my familiarity with mouth organs as I had already played the Thai mouth organ (khaen) for over ten years. After he found out that I could only stay and study for a short period of time, Ono-sensei focused a lot of the lessons towards me and I was shown all the traditional finger and breathing techniques and my teachers were instructed that I should leave Japan with all there was to know about the sho. Ono-sensei went on to personally show me how to maintain and repair the reeds, something few sho players do themselves these days.

With my two teachers, senior on left
With my two teachers, senior on left

After Ono-sensei’s departure, I was given a new teacher, the top sho player in the school. This was quite an honour for a new student, however he had just been in a severe car accident. He would leave the hospital specifically to give me a lesson, and then return directly to the hospital. It was difficult for me to see my teacher sitting across from me in great pain, and I pleaded with him to postpone my lesson until he felt better, but he just thanked me for my concern and continued the lessons. I tried to do everything as quickly as possible, and play as best as I could, so we could finish the lessons early, but no matter how much I did, he kept teaching until the full time was up. He continued to leave the hospital to teach for the next few weeks, and never once would give in to my pleas to postpone or at least shorten the lessons. During this time I worked harder than I ever had before. I wanted every minute of his pain to be worthwhile. I progressed quickly, but still felt that I had barely scratched the surface of understanding Gagaku.

All too quickly my departure time grew near. I was due to leave on January 4th, and was invited to attend the first New Years Festival to be held at this Gagaku-do as a kind of going away party. The New Years Festival is a very big event in Japan and is the time of year when Gagaku musicians are in the greatest demand. This was an especially important event as it was also the inaugural New Year’s concert for this new hall. However, many of the Gagaku performers were doing concerts around the island of Kyushu, and would not be at that evenings performance. I was therefore asked to come early to the celebrations so I could say goodbye to everyone before they went off to their performances. Upon arriving a number of my teachers carefully inspected the new sho that I bought, and asked many questions about my future plans for using the instrument, and when I would return to Japan. One by one they said there goodbyes, and I was finally left alone with my teacher. He turned to me and asked if I planned to stay for the evening celebrations. When I said yes, he said that I didn’t have much time, and I must hurry to change.

Raine-Reusch playing Japanese shoI was taken upstairs to find a set of traditional performance clothes waiting for me. The Gagaku-do had searched all over Japan for clothes that would be big enough to fit me, and hadn’t wanted to invite me to perform in case they couldn’t find them. I was dressed by teacher and a friend, and then taken downstairs and seated on stage between my teacher and my initial junior teacher. I was told to warm up my instrument over the appropriately provided coal heater. This process, which takes from twenty minutes to half an hour, ensures the longevity of both the reeds and the instrument. Meanwhile my teacher put a book of scores in front of me and turned to a piece that I was unfamiliar with. I looked at him and whispered “Sensei, I don’t know this piece”. “Don’t worry” he said “You know all these fingerings and the rhythm is four beats and we repeat each section twice. You enter here and exit here”. This was important information needed to play the piece, as is not written in the score. I practiced the fingering of the piece while I finished warming my instrument, and felt fairly confident by the beginning of the performance. I played the piece fairly well not making any noticeable errors, and at the end sat back to listen to rest of the performance which thankfully didn’t include my instrument. Just before the last piece, my teacher leaned over, turned to another page in the scorebook and tapped the page. I looked at my teacher in horror. The performance was still going on. I couldn’t ask him about the details of the piece!

Listening carefully as the music started I watched my teacher diligently out of the corner of my eye. Fortunately he didn’t start playing right away, which gave me time to try to hear some of the details of the piece. Then after a few minutes he slowly raised his sho to play and I started to do the same, but quickly noticed that the player on my other side of me hadn’t raised his instrument at all, so I pulled my instrument back. This was the first time that I had heard a piece where one sho started before the others. I went back to heating my sho, and now watched the other player out of the corner of my eye as I continued to listen to the details of the piece. Before long he pulled his instrument back, which I copied thinking he was going to start, but he only scratched his arm and then went back to heating his instrument. I was now fully aware of how the piece went and after the player beside me pulled his instrument back three or four times, to scratch or adjust his robe, me copying him every time, we finally raised our instruments and joined the piece. I was feeling fairly comfortable as I played except that I didn’t know how or where to end. In my limited experience, pieces usually ended somewhere on the second repeat of the last row in the notation. Thus it was a shock to find that just before I started to play a chord still in the first repeat, everyone else had stopped! I quickly pulled the sho away from my lips a millisecond before my breath started to vibrate the reeds. I slowly lowered it almost in unison with the other players hoping that no-one had noticed.

Raine-Reusch Gagaku KyushuShortly after, the whole program came to an end. My teacher looked at me smiled, and nodded. He said nothing. It was not my place to ask him why he hadn’t explained both pieces at the beginning, all that mattered was that I had played well, I had not made any obvious mistakes and I had not embarrassed the school or my teacher on this most prestigious event. Their honour was intact. Me? I was bathed in sweat, my shoulders were screaming in pain and I was an emotional wreck for days. But I did it.

It was a huge honour to be asked to perform at their inaugural New Years performance, as well as an immense amount of trust in me. Since that time I have performed often with the sho, mainly in my performances with creative improv artists such as Barry Guy, Robert Dick, Torsten Müller, Henry Kaiser, and Pauline Oliveros. I have performed Cage’s One9 for solo sho as well. I find it interesting that the trust shown to me in Japan is not extended in Canada when local presenters would prefer to fly a (Japanese) sho player in from Holland twice over hiring me to perform New Music. Yes, I know, I don’t look the part, I am not an “authentic” player, and sho is not my main instrument as I have been only playing it professionally for over 25 years… At least they decided, after discussion, to present one of my compositions for sho.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Bali Night

In 1984 I was in Bali, Indonesia researching traditional musical instruments, I decided to briefly study the suling, an end-blown bamboo ring flute. I easily found a teacher in one of the villages and rented a small beach hut close by. The hut was owned by an old Balinese man who spoke no English or Indonesian, but only Balinese, a language I knew nothing of. To make arrangements for the rental we communicated through a young neighbourhood girl he had hired for just that reason. Other than making the initial arrangements, the owner had virtually no other contact with his guests, and I would only rarely see him briefly in the distance.

One evening after a particularly long week of lessons, I sat on the porch of my cabin facing the ocean to play my suling. Although I was really enjoying Bali, I was in a remote area away from tourists and there were few people to talk to. I was starting to feel a quite lonely and homesick. After briefly practicing what I had learned that day, I decided to comfort myself by playing for a while. I sat back, closed my eyes, listened for a while and then started to play. Soon I was engrossed in the music. I played the wind in the trees, the ocean waves, the sounds of the night; and I played my feelings of being alone, so far from home in a land full of adventure and wonder.

Hearing a sound beside me, I stopped and opened my eyes to find the cabin’s owner walking past. He nodded to me as he sat down on a rock a short distance in front of the cabin, and smiling, gestured for me to continue playing.

Although feeling surprised and a bit self-conscious, I nodded and smiled back, then closed my eyes and continued to play. I was soon so engrossed again in the music, that I completely forgot about my unexpected audience. After about an hour, I stopped playing and slowly opened my eyes to find the owner still sitting on the rock, with his head bowed and eyes closed. As I watched he slowly raised his head opened his eyes, turned, nodded to me, and then slowly got up and walked off into the night.

It was late and I was tired. I only briefly thought how nice it was that he stayed to listen to my music, and within minutes I was in bed and fast asleep.

The next morning, as I got up and opened the door to my cabin, I was surprised to find the owner sitting on my doorstep holding a giant basket of fruit. Smiling a big smile, he handed me a piece of fruit gestured for me to sit down, and started to talk rapidly in Balinese. Although I didn’t understand a word he was saying, by his gestures I understood that he was talking about his property. He talked about the trees, the birds, and everything that we could see or hear around us. Then he began to teach me the names for everything in Balinese and asked me its English equivalent.

I didn’t have much time to think about this instant friendship, as our conversation in gestures and bits of language was totally engaging and would rapidly jump from one subject to another. It felt as if my new friend was trying to make up for his weeks of silence all in one day. We talked for that whole day and well into the evening, and he was at my door again the next morning and for many mornings after!

During the rest of my stay we became good friends, spending most of our mornings together and learning more of each others language. We often helped each other with each others chores from laundry to yard work, always with a running commentary of gestures, and a lot of laughter. His warm friendship had made my loneliness and homesickness totally disappear, and every day I looked forward to our time together.

When it became time for me to leave, we exchanged gifts, smiles, good wishes, and even a few embarrassed tears. We parted as good friends, knowing that we may never see each other again, but that we would never forget each other.

It’s strange that with all the time we spent together and in all our conversations, never once did either of us mention that evening of music. I guess we didn’t need to.