Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Playing the Japanese Flute

At the end of the day, when my email queue is empty, my Blackberry is silent, and my desk is cleared, I retreat to a quiet space to play the Japanese flute, called the Shakuhachi. This blog entry is a personal statement about playing the Shakuhachi and ensuring I keep my mental health while living the life of a CIO.

As I've said in previous blog entries, being a CIO is a lifestyle, not a job. It's a balancing act of keeping projects moving, customers happy, and budgets frugal. The average tenure of a CIO in most organizations is about 2-3 years. When I leave the office, I want to clear away the frustrations of the day and arrive home with the optimism and enthusiasm my family deserves. Having avocations outside of the office helps me maintain my mental clarity and positive outlook. Rock/ice climbing are great weekend activities to recharge the soul, and I'll blog about those later. Playing the Shakuhachi is a daily meditative experience that has been called "Blowing Zen".

The Shakuhachi is an end blown bamboo flute, which is a bit like a recorder without a mouth piece. It's created by hollowing out the root end of a single piece of bamboo. Sound is made by passing air over the blowing edge, enabling the player to produce 4 octaves using only the lips. Notes are fingered using 5 holes and sharps/flats are made by varying the position of the head or by partially covering the holes.

Shakuhachi sheet music is written entirely in Japanese Hiragana characters and not in western musical notation.

The instrument came into Japan from China at the end of the 7th century. From this period until the 12th century it was chiefly used as court music. From the 12th to 16th century it was a popular instrument among mendicant monks, who banded together in the 17th century to form the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism and used the Shakuhachi as a spiritual tool. Their songs are called honkyoku and are meditation pieces rather than folk songs.

Learning to play the Shakuhachi requires years of study under a licensed Master. The Japanese say that it takes 3 years to learn to move your head appropriately and 7 years to make a note perfectly. One such Shakuhachi master, Phil Nyokai James, lives in Portland, Maine and offers lessons in the Boston area to 10 students every other week.

I play two flutes - a 1.8 (traditional 1.8 foot long) in the key of D made by Kobayashi Ichijo of Osaka and a 2.4 in the key of A (the picture above) made by Yamaguchi Shugetsu of Nara. In addition to playing the flute each night, I bring it to mountaintops (such as the summit of Mt. Fuji) and forests. The rich sound echos throughout natural settings and sounds truly spiritual.

A recent book about Mt. Monanock in New Hampshire describes the mysterious flute player of the mountain who is often heard but never seen. If you're hiking in New England and you hear a flute in the distance, it just might be the wandering CIO monk.


Peter said...

Awesome post.

I love technology, and New Media, especially where it intermeshes with my medical vocation - blogging, podcasting, social networking. I do EMR and medical IT consulting half time, and clinical medicine practice the other.

Yet at the end of a consulting day, the last thing I want to do is go anywhere near the home computer.

I have colleagues, non-medical, who do software and IT work full time. Nearly without fail, they are overweight, albeit seemingly happy. I understand entirely; this is the kind of stuff where you come up for air, and realize 5 hours have gone by.

Please continue posting periodically about matters of balance and slate-clearing, be they musical, bodywork, or other oriented.

seandalton42 said...

Japanese Flute is very intresting musical instrument. so many musical peoples are very intresting in this Flute.

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