TEIYA and NORIKO
We are working on the shigin “Meiso-Nippongo” with the folk song “Kurdo Bushi” interspersed between verses: This week I’m finding it intimidating to learn these new songs, new styles, a language that still feels foreign in my mouth because of the classical vocal technique that is so ingrained in my throat and tongue. I recognize about half of these words, and deducing from what little grammatical knowledge I can remember from my lessons a few years back, I try to figure out what might be going on in this piece, before I resort to Google translate and other translations online.
I find myself either feeling scared to try and make mistakes, because I know I will, because I don’t have the tools, because this language is my father-tongue, because the experts are a continent and an ocean away. I have to rely on my western music education, slow and repetitive listening, notating everything down in a western style, writing out this old Japanese min’yō in rōmaji, and I know it’s still not perfect. It never will be. I know there are a million more training wheels I will have to implement along the way. I know it will never be like the original Japanese style, but I’m not “original Japanese style” either, I guess. I’m just me, and I can only do my best. Watashi wa ganbarimasu-yō!
I was really inspired by the beats Noriko-san added to the latest extrapolation of the nagatua “Otsukisama” and so I took that shamisen line and added some more beats, and taiko rhythmic backings and then felt inclined to sing overtop, just improvising a bit. The melodies in these pieces are really cool, and so I wanted to keep the integrity of that at least. However, the poetry is child-like and quite innocent so adding these beats leaned into that playfulness.
I love that our conversations and musical explorations are rooted in form and style, honouring tradition, but also leaving enough space so we can still embrace our contemporary sensibilities and tastes. Here’s a more traditional recording of Otsukisama, and then a snippet of a modern, upbeat version
I recorded this short excerpt for Teiya, so they could understand the historical reference
and atmosphere of the sake drinking tale which has been immortalized in poetry, song,
and film. I watched 50 hours of the NHK taiga drama – “Gunshi Kanbe” to find this very
scene. 1 Classical Japanese poetry requires a certain degree of supportive research to
help capture the historical import and emotions, in my opinion. This excerpt from
“Gunshi Kanbe” depicts Mori Tahe (of the Kuroda clan) winning a drinking bet (5 gallons
of sake – one shot!) and receiving the infamous spear – Meiso Nippongo. The song
Kuroda Bushi ( 黒田節) was inspired by this scene. Kuroda Bushi is a folk song from
Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan and dates back to the 1590s. The first verse of
Kuroda Bushi is immersed into the shigin, “Meiso Nippongo”. This is my favorite shigin
for the New Year.
“The Toyotomi Decline.” Gunshi Kanbee, created by Yoichi Maekawa, episode 44, NHK
(Japan Broadcasting Corporation), 2014.
Our conversations about nagauta continue – now to add to the list is “Suehirogari,” “Musumedōjioji,” and “Zen Honō-ji – and I am transported into wonderfully illuminating conversations about the stories behind these songs: noble samurai, drunken competitions, and sorrowful forlorn women. Somehow, we seem to weave Puccini’s Madama Butterfly back into our musical conversations, and how it has affected us from my most recent video offering of The Butterfly Project to Noriko-san seeing it for the first time at age 10 in Montreal where she observed yellow face and costuming that was culturally inaccurate. Cultural appropriation, racism, the rise of anti-Asian hate, echoing back across time, and across oceans to internment camps and incarceration in the 1940s, in both the US and Canada, deportation, disownment, banishment. And then at the same time unpacking the trope of the unmarried old woman whose unrequited love leaves her bitter and eventually turning into a monster to be discarded, shunned, and then her ultimate death.
We talked about the meaning of our names, the kanji and where it came from: “One who unties knots” will do so “steadfastly as an evergreen forest.” A good mantra for our process, me thinks.
I’m going to dabble more into the world of Otsukisama and dream about what “shigin” could sound like, especially the style of shigin that was taught by a western classically trained opera singer…
I’m listening to “Otsuki-sama”, an old recording Noriko-san has from her collection, and then one she recently made on her shamisen in her home studio.
The microphone wasn’t working very well for her so I hear the twang of the shamisen loud and clear, but her voice cuts in and out, like the crescent moon in this song.
tsukino hajimeno mika tsukisamawa
Crescent moon at the beginning of each month
mayuni nitatoyo ane samano
looks like my older sister’s eyebrow,
We are passing back musical offerings right now, but I’m only noticing today that the archive recording is a third higher than the other one she made for me… Will this be difficult for her to play, now that I’m singing higher? I don’t mind either key, except for when I go to record and listen back closely to each take, do I start to scrutinize and second-guess my offering this week. I can’t seem to find an opera-enough quality, nor a Japanese-enough quality. I feel completely left in a transition(-less) land, a neither-here-nor-their land that seems to get me nowhere except maybe deeper in the dark and deeper down a million worm holes than have dead ends or no end.
Do you know earthworms don’t have eyes? Only receptors that tell them whether its light or dark, whether they’re above ground or below… right now, I can only perceive the darkness. It’s funny that this song is about our great, beautiful moon, lighting up the sky.
“Moon-Goddess… how old are you?” お月さまいくつ
I feel old and at the same time very young. The same overwhelming feeling of everything, all at once, trying to do everything, all at once, when really the moon just needs to rise again tonight in whatever state it is in, crescent, full, gibbous or new. It is still there, returning, night after night, in whatever state. “Trust the process, Teiya. Just return, night after night.”
Noriko and I are getting to know each other and connecting about our Nikkei experiences. Similarly, when we were both small children, we did Nihon-buyō (Japanese dancing). It made me reminisce about all the very Nikkei moments I have had, especially with culture, martial arts, and festivals. Lots of this was happening and observed at the Powell Street Festival in Vancouver (taiko, musical performances, other martial arts demonstrations), and all these experiences were either very hyper feminine or hyper masculine (judo… I did this when I quit dancing until age 12 or so). I’ve attached some of the dancing photos.
We have also started to explore nagauta style of song/singing with “Otsukisama”, which translates to Dearest Moon or the highest regard you can give when referring to someone/something, “-sama” being “master” when adding as a suffix to someones name. I’ve started to hear this with notable and natural things in Japan too, like Mount Fuji, people refer to the great mountain as “Fujisama”. So maybe this means, “Oh great Moon”, or something. You can find the lyrics and the general translation Noriko provided me. The melody is simple and lyrical and flows a bit more from what little I know about nagauta at this point.
Noriko also shared with me about 40 other songs. I’m so fascinated by these sounds and the sincerity that is inherent in this style. The only song I know is called “Echigo Jishi” which means “Echigo’s Lion”. And I only know about this because in a recent project of mine that explores Madama Butterfly (an opera by Puccini) and the Japanese melody he appropriated uses this melody a lot. In its original form, the song is much more drawn out, and it’s so long! Probably 13 minutes or so… There’s a droning quality in the voice with little decorative melismas the singer does right after that change pitches, which is further supported by shamisen, shakuhachi, koto. I’ve seen it performed in various combinations now on YouTube.
I’ve also added a drawing of this famous song in there too, which I love. Another fun fact, “Echigo” is the old or ancient word of the place where my father was from in Japan – Niigata, on the north coast Sea of Japan.
作曲者 吉住 小三郎
作詞者 中内 蝶二
Moon Goddess, how old are you?
It has been 7 years since I become a woman at the age of 13. (or this may possibly mean 13 years and 7 months old)
You are still young
and never get old.
You become crescent moon
and full moon.
Crescent moon at the beginning of each month
looks like my older sister’s eyebrow,
the thin eyebrow matching her smile.
You also look like a comb (semicircular in the past).
青柳の 濡れていろます 洗い髪
Washed hair has richer color due to its dampness and looks like a green willow.
Putting white face powder and rouge.
Keeping the appearance well.
The mirror reflecting them is very round.
That is full moon in the middle of a month.