Blown Away

Yesterday, we went to a shakuhachi concert held in a Catholic church during a typhoon.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAOur friend Alec, the one in the middle, invited us. The church was surreal, with a Japanese priest and a primarily Philippine congregation.  We arrived in time to catch the tail end of the afternoon mass and I realized I had never been inside a Catholic church before, except as a tourist, but we duly stood and sat as instructed and it was over soon enough.

I’ve always been fond of wind instruments in general, and the shakuhachi in specific. It’s just a bamboo tube with some holes drilled in it, and it’s played using only the five tone Chinese scale, yet by varying the angle they blow across the mouthpiece, wiggling their  heads around in weird ways and partially covering the finger holes, players can achieve variations of sound that are quite astonishing. A lot of it is based on sounds existing in nature, so if you close your eyes you can hear the wing flaps of soaring birds, the cajoling flow of water over rocks in a shallow river, the haunting, lilting cries of small animals in pain or fear, the wailing of high winds through mountaintop trees. The tones range from bottom-of-the-ocean deep to make-you-cringe shrill. Alec managed to create the sound of a nesting crane using the way you roll an R in Spanish.

They played a variety of songs. Some were traditional, although I wouldn’t be able to tell you if this is sheet music or a restaurant menu.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe tall guy, Chris, is a composer and arranged this somewhat less traditional piece.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAYup. Look closely. That’s I Feel Good by James Brown, highly stylized. I didn’t recognize it beyond “gosh, that sounds familiar”, until I saw the sheet music.

The only negative was the two little girls sitting two pews ahead of us stuffing their faces with potato chips and shrimp crackers all the way through the concert. They should consider themselves lucky that there was an old lady in the intervening pew, because otherwise we might have clunked their skulls together. Their mother was too busy playing with her phone to notice so we probably could have gotten away with it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty groovy way to spend a blustery Sunday afternoon. And when was the last time anyone got to use the words “shakuhachi”, “Catholic church” and “typhoon” all in one sentence?

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