Saturday, August 04, 2018

The Distant Cry of the Deer

Shibata Zeshin, Deer in a Forest, c. 1880s
Source: Wikimedia Commons

This week I attended the opening gala concert of the 2018 World Shakuhachi Festival.  The photograph below (by Jean-François Lagrost) was taken during one of the performances and shows the audience in the Union Chapel, Islington.  In the second half of the concert, Riley Lee and Christopher Yohmei Blasdel performed a shakuhachi duet, Shika No Tōne, 'The Distant Cry of the Deer'.  This began with Blasdel on stage, playing the opening phrase, then, at the back of the audience, Lee answering on his flute and beginning to walk slowly through the audience.  Eventually the two players met on stage.  Listening to this it occurred to me that they had transformed the listening audience into a landscape: we were like the trees in a Japanese forest through which the calls of two animals sounded.  This setting is evoked in the conclusion to the piece, as described on the International Shakuhachi Society website: 'it is as if, rather than viewing deer, the focus is changed to that of the scenery deep in the mountains where the leaves on the trees have turned red and yellow.'

The ISS page on Shika No Tōne has various notes on the piece and I will pass on here a few quotes from texts by Yokoyama Katsuya
'According to legend, Kurosawa Kinko, founder of the Kinko school, was taught this piece by a komusō priest named Ikkei in Nagasaki. The piece is interpreted as a representation either of two deer calling to one another to stress their territorial rights or of a male and a female deer responding to one another's calls deep in the autumnal mountains.'
'In ancient literature, it was sometimes said, "the stag and hind are calling each other." but in fact the hind does not cry, so it should perhaps be interpreted as the echo of the stag's cry.'
'Within its lonesomeness and liveliness, the music depicts the world seikan or the serene contemplation: it is just the same world as an ancient poet once depicted in his famous Tanka-poem:
Far up the mountain side,
While tramping over the scarlet maple leaves,
I hear the mournful cry of the wild deer:
This sad, sad autumn tide.'

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