国際交流基金 The Japan Foundation Performing Arts Network Japan

Artist Interview アーティストインタビュー

Jun. 1, 2018
The Japanese Sho mouth organ of Mayumi Miyata Giving voice to the natural world



The Japanese Sho mouth organ of Mayumi Miyata
Giving voice to the natural world

Mayumi Miyata (Sho musician)

Japanese Gagaku court music has been passed down for more than a thousand years. Born of a mix of ancient Japanese music and music transplanted from continental Asia, Gagaku developed into a unique musical tradition, and in 2009 it was officially added to UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a representative form of Japanese culture. Mayumi Miyata is a professional sho musician who has pioneered efforts to introduce the unique appeal of Japanese Gagaku music internationally. In this interview we hear about the world of Miyata’s music, which now includes collaborations with artists in contemporary music, contemporary dance, opera and more.
Interviewer: Kazumi Narabe [Journalist]

Mayumi Miyata’s Sho

We are told that before you discovered the world of Gagaku music, you studied piano. Could you tell us about your first encounter with Gagaku?
It was after university that I first really encountered Gagaku. At university I had majored in piano, and from that time I also had an interest in music aesthetics. At the time, I had some doubts about why I had to spend so many hours a day practicing music that was from a limited time period in history, mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries to the 20th century, and that being mainly from Europe as well. I felt that there must be other kinds of music besides what I was studying.

Since childhood, I had an interest in the different cultures of various countries, especially ancient Egypt and Greece, and also China. In a music aesthetics course I took at university, the musicologist Yo Kuniyasu taught us that in ancient Greece there was an idea of harmonia mundi (Harmony of the Spheres). In Book 10 of Plato’s Republic, in the Myth of Er, it tells about the near-death experience of the young soldier Er who dies in battle and then returns to life. In that story, there is a rotating Zodiak wheel on the lap of the Goddess Ananke. It consists of eight wheels with Sirens on them who sing, each in a constant note that creates a resonant harmony. When I heard it said that this Harmony of the Spheres that the Sirens create can be heard in the other world, I thought that some day, in my lifetime, I would like to hear that kind of harmony.

I like the piano, but when you press the keys of the piano the sound it produces begins to die away so quickly that I felt that it could not probably give me an experience of something like the Harmony of the Spheres. And I thought that if I studied more about music aesthetics I might be able to get a little closer to the Harmony of the Spheres, so I thought I might go on to graduate school to study music aesthetics, but before that happened, I was captured by the sho pipe. (Laughs.
What do you mean when you say you were “captured” by the sho?
It is a story that may sound decidedly vague, like trying grasp a cloud, but there was a day at the time of year when the May greenery is at its most beautiful and it had been raining constantly for about a week. It was at about 5:00 in the evening and I was on the train, standing near the door. The sun was getting lower in the sky over the Tsurumi river not far from my home when suddenly a gap opened in the clouds and single ray of sunlight poured through. It looked like a ray of light in a religious painting, and at that moment I was no longer hearing the sounds around me. Instead that ray of light felt like it was resonating sound. It was a mysterious feeling that made my heart beat with excitement. At that moment, I felt that this might be to sound I had been hoping to hear.

It connected in my mind to the sound of the sho, which I had heard before. After I got off the train and was walking toward my home, the new green of the hedgerows was sparkling, and at the shrine along the way, misty vapor seemed to be rising into the sky from its large tree. At that moment it was not only the sho that the sound resembled but something closer to the image of the entire Gagaku ensemble. I felt the sound of the large taiko drum seemed to reach into the ground like roots and give order to the earth. The metallic chi-chi sound of the small shoko gong sounded like it was transmitting to the other world and the took-toko sound of the kakko drum sounded like the beating of time passing. The sound of the ryuteki flute was like a flow of air that connected the trees to the sky, carrying the wind with it. And the hichiriki flute was like the voices of us living creatures on the earth, like the voices of human beings and the voices of animals, and the sound of the sho pipes had a resonance of sunlight from the sky reflecting off the myriad things of the natural world.

Wondering all this I was imagining could really be true, after I got home I listened to a recording of the composer Tōru Takemitsu’s Shuteiga – An Autumn Garden (*1) performed by the Shikibushoku Gakubu (*2) (Music Department) of the Imperial Household Agency. There is a part where four musicians perform on the sho, and I felt that this indeed was the sound I had felt from sunlight. It was then that I knew I had found the sound I wanted. At that time I still didn’t have any desire to perform myself, but when I found out that there was a sho in our university’s Instrument Materials Room, I went to see it and found that it was considerably damaged. I didn’t want to try making a sound with it only to find that it wasn’t the sound I was hoping for and become disillusioned. So I made up my mind that I would learn to play it properly. I learned that one of our professors who taught recorder, Hiroyuki Koinuma, was going to a Gagaku school, and I was able to get an introduction from him to the Sennichidani Gagaku association in the Sinanomachi district of Tokyo and started studying there.

I started studying there in about July of the year after I graduated from university. At that time I ordered a sho to be made for me, and I found out that I would have to wait half a year for one to be completed for me. In Gagaku, you begin by practicing singing (shoga singing *3 ), so I did a lot of shoga training in the half year I was waiting for my instrument, and listening to the older students practicing was as joyous an experience as I could have hoped for.
It is said that in Gagaku, once the student of a wind instrument like the sho has learned the shoga singing they are prepared to play the instrument and perform on it as soon as they are finally given it.
With the hichiriki or the fue flute instruments it is hard to say where or not they will be able to produce a {good} sound right away, but with the sho, once you have learned the shoga and the fingering you will be able to produce a viable sound. But it is different with different people, there are some people who have studied at music school for four years but still their sound is uncertain at first and there are others who are able to produce a good sound right away, and there are also people who can master the fingering right away. In my case I had really just begun for the sheer joy of it, so I really didn’t have any trouble from the beginning.
For a long time, Gagaku was mostly a world of male performers, so at the time you began, didn’t your being a young woman performing on the sho draw a lot of attention?
I wasn’t aware of anything like that. Because, there were several other women apprenticed to my teacher. But I guess there was that aspect. However, as I said earlier, I had not begun with the intention of becoming a performer and I was really just happy to be listening to the sound.

At that time, the director Toshiro Kido was doing a variety of different productions at the National Theatre, and in the Gagaku genre there were things like improvisational performances of classic Gagaku works and commissioning of new works for performances. The teacher I was studying with at the time said to me, “You can read (Western style) musical scores, right? Come perform in this work,” so without really thinking about it, I found myself performing on stage.

That was a performance with an orchestra in April of 1979, but then in June I participated in performances of the Gosechi no Mai (the imperial court harvest dance ceremony) and the Shirabyoushi no Mai performance at the National Theatre and NHK Hall not as a sho player but as one of the dance performers. But since Gosechi no Mai is a ceremonial piece usually danced by amateur young ladies from the Imperial family or the aristocracy, I guess I was chosen because I didn’t have any background in traditional Japanese dance and, despite some knowledge of Gagaku, I hadn’t really learned the fundamentals of Gagaku dance patterns. I had been studying traditional dance under Tadamaro Ohno and I danced in these performances with the students he was teaching Gosechi no Mai to at Toho Gakuen School Of Music.

In around October of that year, I was supposed to be performing [on the sho] in Shuteiga, but again they had me performing in the dance instead. That time I performed the dance with a graduate of the Musicology department of the Faculty of Music at Tokyo University of the Arts who had never danced pieces choreographed by Prof. Tadamaro. So, I guess at first I was doing more dance than sho performance.

In the course of performing like this just because I enjoyed being in that environment, I gradually became one of the regulars in Gagaku performances at the National Theatre. In 1983, Kido-san told me that I should start doing recitals. But at the time I was worried that Gagaku has only its six modes, so the pieces all tend to sound the same. Now I understand the differences, so I don’t think that way anymore (laughs). But Kido-san has suggested that it would also be interesting to use other instruments of the sho family, so I used the Chinese sho a few times. Also, I did recitals performing Tōru Takemitsu’s work Distance (for oboe and sho) and new works we commissioned from Toshi Ichiyanagi and Shigeaki Saegusa. The work Hoshi no Wa (Wheel of a Stars) Ichiyanagi-san wrote for me is a composition I consider to be one of the truly memorable solo pieces for sho in the instrument’s thousand-year history. Saegusa-san’s work was a popular style piece for synthesizer, percussion and sho. Although I was doing these recitals, I still didn’t really think of myself as a performer.
It is certainly surprising to hear you say that while you were performing works performed by such famed composers!
You’re right, I guess (laughs). I was also able to perform with such important figures as Sukeyasu Shiba, Tadamaro-sensei and Kanehiko Togi. I truly was blessed with the wonderful opportunities like these.
Was there a trend in the early 1980s to do new things with the sho or with Gagaku music? At the National Theatre Kido-san was actively presenting performances not only of Gagaku but also of Buddhist music such as Shomyo (chanting of Buddhist hymns) or chanting of the Hoke-kyo Sutra.
It was certainly important, I believe, that Kido-san had been undertaking such new activities at the National Theatre from the 1970s. Kido-san was always thinking about what the true meaning of “tradition” is, because whenever new music was born in any era, it was not as traditional music but as the contemporary music of the day. But after that, although there were certainly important elements that remained, in the following generations people would formalize it and unnecessary new elements would become attached to the tradition. Knowing that, Kido-san was always trying to revive the original essence of what had once been fresh new art.

If I may explain here something about the Gagaku tradition, in today’s Gagaku there are three main genres. One derives from the ancient Japanese song and dance traditions, which include Kuniburi no utamai and the ancient song tradition known as Jodai kabu. This is a tradition mainly of songs accompanied by the wagon (a six-stringed Japanese zither) and it doesn’t include the sho, which as an instrument was a foreign import. But two other foreign instruments, the ryuko and hichiriki were used because they were easy to use to accompany singing. This is the ancient Japanese musical form that is used today in the Imperial court and at the major Shinto shrines.

The second genre is song and dance traditions imported from abroad. From the 5th to the middle of the 6th century, song and dance forms like Shiragigaku and Kudaragaku entered Japan from the Korean Peninsula, and from the 7th century music from Tang Dynasty China entered Japan. The Tang capital of Changan at the time was an international metropolis where music from China’s western regions (Xiyu), India and Persia gathered. That was also a period when Buddhism was spreading in popularity in Japan and there were foreign forms of chant and dance that were said to have been brought to Japan by Buddhist priests from India (Tenjiku) and Vietnam (Rinyu) and Gagaku became an important means for conveying the grandeur of the Buddhist rituals. For example, in the ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha statue that was constructed at Todaiji Temple (572) it is reported that in addition to performances of Kuniburi no utamai, there were also many foreign ceremonial chants and dances performed. Eventually the music used in these ceremonies spread among the court nobility in the Heian Period, and it was this third genre that the royalty came to enjoy it in their private banquets from the early to middle Heian Period.

There was also a new genre of song and dance called shiikakangen (a term combining the four characters for poetry, song, wind and string [instruments]) in which foreign-origin instruments were used to create accompaniment for the reciting of Chinese style poems (kanshi) and Japanese poems (waka), as well as creation of dances and music for ensembles of wind and string instruments.

One of the ways that Gagaku can be described is by dividing its development into three periods, beginning with native Japanese music, imported foreign music and the subsequent developments of the combination of the two.
Do you feel that it is because of the shiikakangen tradition involving the active creation of new music that it is natural to attempt to create new works in contemporary Gagaku?
Not only with shiikakangen, I believe that the period in which Gagaku was being imported from abroad must have been a very exciting period, in a way that might be likened to our excitement at the release of a new record by popular musicians when I was young. People who admired Tang Dynasty culture would feel the excitement of hearing the latest music imported from China and then begin to enjoy it among themselves. We tend to think of Gagaku today as elegant traditional music, but for the people of that time it was described as the popular music of the day, in other words, it was “modern” new music.

Today I have the feeling that I want to bring back that feeling. And in my case, in addition to the presence of the sho as a traditional instrument, there is the presence of the sho as a means to that ideal resonance that inspired me form the beginning, so I have never felt a boundary separating “classic” and “new music.” My first aim is to try to feel the what was new in each of the historical periods of classic Gagaku without preconceptions, and at the same time I have a belief that the ideal “classic” music is the kind that reflects the natural world that I first experienced.

What I mean by music that reflects nature is my ideal kind of music that is not contrived by human intentions and not driven by the emotions. For example, the piece One⁹ (*4) that John Cage created for the sho in 1991 has a feeling that is close to that ideal. Using a computer program designed for I Ching type ancient Chinese divination, this work was created by selecting sounds in a chance operation, much like casting divining sticks. Cage didn’t think of himself as a composer but said we wanted to be a listener, and he used the divination method as a means to minimize the human activity involved in the composition process. That shares connections with my ideal for the way Gagaku should be.
Is improvisation also used as a performance element in Gagaku?
Some of it does have an improvisational element. There is a performance style called nokorigaku (performance of depletion) used for pieces like Etenraku (*5) in the court music repertoire. In it, the melody is repeated and gradually the various instruments drop out of the performance until only the biwa (lute) and hichiriki flute and the koto (Japanese zither) remain (for some pieces only the koto) and then parts of the melody are deleted or added again in an improvisational way. Today there are sometimes defined patterns for this deletion and variation of the melody, but in the past it was done as an improvisational performance.
It is like the performance style used in jazz, isn’t it?
Yes. You have a melody and you play variations with that melody hidden inside. I believed that long ago there was probably an improvisational element in the tune as well.

Reigakusha and the spread of Sho

You are a member of the Gagaku performance group Reigakusha. Gagaku is performed not only by the Gakubu Department of the Imperial Household Agency but also by groups made up primarily performers of the Gakubu Department and by musicians affiliated shrines and temples, and by groups made up of Gagaku professionals and private amateur groups of Gagaku enthusiasts. Reigakusha was formed in 1985 with the retired Gakubu Department member Sukeyasu Shiba as musical director for the purpose of Gagaku ensemble research. Besides classic Gagaku works, Reigakusha focuses on performances of rare or virtually lost Gagaku works and works performed with reconstructed ancient instruments that remain in the 8th-century Shosoin Treasure House (of Nara), as well as contemporary works commissioned from contemporary composers. Reigakusha performs both in Japan and abroad. I think the establishment of Reigakusha was very significant in the efforts to connect Gagaku to the contemporary world of music. When did you become a member of Reigakusha.
Shiba-sensei left the Gakubu Department in 1984 out of a desire to pursue his own musical career freely. Shiba-sensei is strongly motivated by the desire to use performances to spread appreciation of Toru Takemitsu’s Shuteiga, which he considers to be a very important work. There have been Gagaku performances of it at the National Theatre (Tokyo), and with Shiba-sensei as the prime mover, we have worked to first of all consolidate the classic Gagaku ensemble and learn in the process, and it is that desire that we started practice sessions. Reigakusha was established as a result of that movement.

Today there are about 25 members, and normally we gather three times a month to practice. Everyone in it is unreserved making suggestions and discussing about how things should or could be performed, so there is a good atmosphere in the group.
What do you feel you have learned from Shiba-sensei?
I guess it is how to enjoy Gagaku. The Gakke (*6) Gagaku musician families that have carried on the tradition and lived in it possess music that is truly a treasure, but at the same time they may not be able to act freely in some respects. Being one who left the Gakubu Department of the imperial Household Agency to begin free activities on his own, I have learned from Shiba-sensei how to enjoy Gagaku not just within the tradition but through a variety of other ways as well. I greatly treasure the experiences I have had participating in the numerous performance that have resulted from Shiba-sensei’s efforts to revive Gagaku music such as pieces that were lost when the tradition lapsed in the Heian period or to revive the music found on old scores in Dunhuang, China and perform it on reconstructions of ancient instruments of the time.
Is it now possible to study true Gagaku arts and performance at universities?
At Tokyo University of the Arts it is now possible to major in Gagaku. After I graduated from Kunitachi College of Music and started studying Gagaku and then started teaching sho as Shiba-sensei’s assistant at Tokyo University of the Arts, but it was just an elective class taught once a week and most of the students in the class were studying Musicology in the Faculty of Music. At Kunitachi College of Music there is a once-a-week elective class in Gagaku in the Traditional Music course that is taught on the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels (year 1) and one the advanced level in year 2. The students gather to practice regularly and until now several of them have gone on to become members of Reigakusha.
It has been more than 30 years now since Reigakusha was established. It seems that lately the group has expanded its activities to include things like Gagaku for children.
Under an Agency for Cultural Affairs program of performances at schools, we have been giving performances since 2006. Shiba-sensei is making the passing on of Gagaku to children his life work, and that influence is major. He himself has gone to the schools numerous times to participate in the program. The performance story “Ponta and the Thunder God” that Shiba-sensei created with a storyline and narration and interesting sound effects is a fun and interesting work that Reigakusha members have performed in elementary and middle schools all around Japan.

For a long time, Gagaku existed mainly as ceremonial music, and to maintain the dignity of the ceremonies, the music was performed in a slow and solemn way. In real Gagaku there is also music with lively jumping rhythms, and I want us to show children that there is fun in this music.
Since Reigakusha continues to make a number of original new Gagaku pieces each year, there must be a total of least 50 of these pieces by now. The number of composers who write for Gagaku has grown too. Is there a new world of Gagaku being born in these commissions for new works?
On example is Helmut Lachenmann, who is a composer with an approach that he wants to make the instrument his own when he composes for it, and that is true of the Western instruments as well. With the violin for example, instead of having it played it in the usual way, he may have the strings rub with the bow upside-down or using it to tap the violin; he is always looking to create sounds that only he can. The part in an opera that Lachenmann wrote for the sho was not intended to copy the usual solemn elegance of Gagaku but instead it was used as music for the old woman to lead the Little Match Girl up to heaven after she died, so it had a bit that feeling of ascending to heaven.

Formerly, when composers wrote for the sho it was usually to easily get the vaguely solemn, dignified shaaaa of Gagaku, but now I feel that more composers are using it to get the special resonance they are searching for in their music, which means they are using it to create their own musical vocabulary with the instrument.

The year before last, as part of celebrations for the Kunitachi College of Music’s 90th anniversary, they did exchange programs with Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and Germany’s Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe, and with Karlsruhe there was an exchange program for composers to create a new work that took the sho as its subject. The Japanese and Karlsruhe students each made their own compositions, and the works chosen by the ensuing auditions were then performed at both universities by Kunitachi College of Music professors. They were not only solo pieces but some using Western instruments along with the sho. And most of these work didn’t rely on the traditional sho music, but rather were examples of the composers seeking their own vocabulary through the sho.
The Japanese shakuhachi bamboo flute seems to widely recognized overseas and some people learn to play it, and there are also competitions, but what about the recognition of the sho overseas? And how many of the instrument itself are there abroad?
I don’t think it is very well known. In New York’s Columbia University and at UCLA in California there are two Gagaku clubs, and in Europe there is a Gagaku group based at the University of Cologne. Since 2006, I have been going every year to Columbia University with Hitomi Nakamura and Takeshi Sasamoto to give workshops, master classes and concerts. During the rest of the year there is a person who does Gagaku at the Tenrikyo church who goes to coach the club members at Columbia once a week for 2 or 3 hours, at the University of Cologne there is also a Tenrikyo person who gives instruction. The club members all practice hard and some have reached the point where they can perform contemporary music pieces.

For the hichiriki and ryuteki flutes there are now good instruments made of plastic resin, but for the sho it is more difficult to spread use of the instrument because it is made of bamboo and there are fewer and fewer craftspeople who are able to make them. The sho I have is the one I got when I first started studying it in 1978, so it is just 40 years old, but if the sho is constantly handled and used properly, there are ones from the Heian Period that are still in use. The year before last at the Exhibition of Shosoin Treasures there was a sho and a u (with longer pipes than the sho and a lower tone) from the Nara Period (8th century) on display and they were truly beautiful. But because they are always shut away, I doubt that they could actually be used, but they probably could be if they were constantly handled.
The sho has been used in performances with orchestras. Is that largely due to the effect of Shuteiga?
In Takemitsu’s work for orchestra and sho, Ceremonial - An Autumn Ode, the sho plays the first and third movements and the orchestra plays the second movement, in it, a fragments of a theme from Shuteiga are flashed here and there. To be precise, there is only one brief moment when the sho and orchestra play together, but it is a beautiful work. Toshi Ichiyanagi-san and Miki Ishii-san have written pieces for sho and other Gagaku instruments, and Toshio Hosokawa has composed several sho concertos for us.

At Columbia University, which I mentioned briefly just now, prof. Barbara Ruch of the The Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies and others have expressed their concern that the Gagaku music using the original instruments will die out, and they say they have a grand-scale dream to make a school where students can study the Japanese instruments. That is not something that can be realized immediately, but students who take our master classes at Columbia University include people like orchestra members who play woodwind instruments and we have them learn on the Gagaku instruments, also some of the master class participants come to Japan in the summer vacation to take the month and a half-long intensive course we give each year.
What do you do in your workshops at Columbia University?
For the students, what we would like to do is have them start with the basics, in other words learning the shoga singing and move on to instruction on the instrument, but most start right in on the instrument. It is the same in the music schools in Japan now too. In truth we would like to have them learn the shoga for about three years, but we now give them the instrument to play right from the beginning. The time we have with them is limited, so things can’t proceed in the ideal way, but the people who really become serious about studying Gagaku eventually start over again from the beginning. What do you do in the workshops that are just intended to give the participants a brief experience of Gagaku.
What do you do in the workshops that are just intended to give the participants a brief experience of Gagaku?
The sho is an instrument that you actually have to warm up thoroughly before playing it, but if we did that the workshop time would be over before we could ever get them to try playing it, so we warm up the instruments beforehand and then start teaching from the fingering technique. Since the participants are very happy just to be able to get a sound out of the instrument, I think that method is OK. Then, since the opening part of Etenraku is rather simple, we help them get an experience of doing just a small part of it. And people with a good sense of music are able to do it.

The potential of Bugaku

Gagaku also has a dance component, Bugaku, which I think as a great deal of new potential. In 2016, contemporary dancers Saburo Teshigawara and Rihoko Satoh performed in Shuteiga Ichigu, which has a dance component. In May of this year in the work SHIRABE – Sho and Dance, you and Teshigawara-san and Satoh-san did a collaboration. In the Japonisme 2018 program in Paris this October there will be a collaboration between Reigakusha and Kaiji Moriyama. Although I’m sure it is not easily done, I think there are numerous efforts being undertaken to explore the potential of Bugaku and contemporary dance.
This is something that also depends on who you do it with, but I think it can be very interesting to explore this potential. Much of the movement in Bugaku dance in Gagaku is very abstract. Of course there is solo dance and also duo dance as well as quartet dance among these, and I think quartet dance can be especially beautiful with its geometrical compositions. It is interesting when the four dancers move in formation in the space, and that interest can be interesting in the context of contemporary dance. Not in the sense that human bodies are moving, but in the abstract forms they make. It doesn’t need to be movement in sync with the music, it can also be juxtaposed with the music. I believe there is a great variety of potential there.
In the case of new Bugaku productions I believe there must be choreographers and directors involved to create the performances. Can you tell us what kinds of people are in charge of this area of the creation?
There are several people who create the dance for Gagaku. They begin with Shiba-sensei and Hideaki Bunno-sensei and others who do the choreography for new Gagaku works. I myself have choreographed one Miko-mai dance based on the basic patterns of classic Bugaku. In the 1979 production of Shuteiga Ichigu, Tadamaro-sensei was also dance with classic Bugaku movement. In new Gagaku works created in the 1980s, there were some works choreographed ballet artists, and with works of contemporary music for Gagaku instruments, there were many works for which dance was choreographed by modern ballet or modern dance artists.
I certainly hope that new things will be tried in Bugaku.
I think that will be very interesting. In Gagaku dance there are many elements of the movements in Chinese martial arts like t’ai chi and kung fu, and we see many similarities in the movement of the legs and arms. It will be great if we see new things born of these shared genres and working with different genres.
When you work with artists of other genres does it influence you as a performer?
It does. It is in the improvisational elements I think, I do react differently. I am fascinated by the fact that when you add one element to another it doesn’t result in a sum of the two but opens up the potential for a myriad of different outcomes in unexpected directions that can give birth to very interesting new things in the same time and the same space.
Because Gagaku music is so abstract, it seems to me that the potential for collaborations with other arts is virtually limitless.
Yes. There are several genres of traditional Japanese music, including Gagaku, Kabuki music and Soukyoku, and indeed, Gagaku is probably the most abstract. With instruments like the three-stringed shamisen used in Kabuki, the human element tends to come to the forefront, so sound the instrument there immediately brings a focus on human emotions, which makes the instrument dominant by its very nature. So, I think the more abstract music of Gagaku makes collaboration with other genres easier, but it also depends on how the composer uses it.
Finally, I would like to ask you about your upcoming plans.
In May, Reigakusha has its annual concert (Reigakusha Gagaku concert No. 34 Celebratory Gagaku, May 25). In September, I will be participating in the Takefu International Music Festival in Fukui Prefecture for young composers and musicians from Japan and abroad. In October I will go to Paris for the Japonisme 2018 event. In December it has a sho recital scheduled at the Suntory Small Hall in Tokyo at which I will perform all the pieces of the work Choshi revived from scores from the Kamakura Period (11th to 12th centuries). By the way, In march I toured New Zealand with the production “Distances: Miyata –Yoshimura - Suzuki Trio, New Zealand Tour 2018” (March 4 – 16) Three young New Zealand composers created pieces that recorder performer Toshiya Suzuki, koto performer Nanae Yoshimura and the German Ensemble musikFabrik performed. The work of the young composers was very inspiring. I also did workshops at Columbia University (Mar. 26 – 31).
Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule for this interview today. We hope your activities will continue spread the appeal of Gagaku musical expression throughout the world.

Mayumi Miyata
Born in Tokyo in 1954. After graduating from the piano department of Kunitachi College Of Music, she studied Gagaku . She is a musician who made the Gagaku wind instrument sho known internationally through her performances. Since 1979 she has performed regularly in Gagaku performances at Tokyo’s National Theatre. Since 1983, Miyata has given sho recitals and premiere performances of contemporary music works by such composers as Tōru Takemitsu, John Cage and Helmut Lachenmann. She also teaches as a visiting professor at Kunitachi College Of Music.


The roots of Gagaku lie in dance and instrumental music from Asian countries that entered the Japanese isles from the 5th century CE from the Korean Peninsula and the Chinese mainland. Then there was a fusing of these imported traditions with ancient Japanese music, and from the Heian Period the royal court began to enjoy this tradition as their own music, which became the origin of today’s Gagaku. Ancient dance and music traditions of Japan include the Kuniburi-no-utamai dance based in ancient Japanese dance, the togaku music tradition with strong Chinese roots and the komagaku based in music of the Goryeo dynasty Korea and the saibara and rouei traditions that evolved in Heian Period Japan, and concerning the arrangements of instrumental ensembles there is kangen tradition, and in the dance traditions there is bugaku and in the vocal/singing traditions there is kayo . In the Heian period, when Gagaku became popular in the court and a school called the gakusho was established to train musicians and it became the central school of the gakubu dance school and lead to the birth of gakke (families of performers) that produced gakunin (performers), for which the arts were passed on from father to son for generations. The instruments used in the performance of Gagaku are woodwind instruments including the hichiriki , a small double-reed wind instrument with a sound similar to an oboe, the sho , a traditional Japanese wind instrument resembling panpipes or a mouth organ, the ryuteki , or “dragon flute,” a medium-pitched bark-covered bamboo transverse flute with seven holes. Then there are stringed instruments including the biwa , or Japanese lute, the koto , or Japanese harp, and percussion instruments including the kakko , a small hourglass-shaped drum struck with two wooden sticks, the da-daiko , large drums used at festivals, and the shoko , a small gong, struck with two horn beaters.

*1 Shuteiga – An Autumn Garden
This work was composed by Tōru Takemitsu in 1973 as a contemporary Gagaku work for a 17-member ensemble. It premiered at the National Theatre and was well received. This led to the 1979 composing of the six-movement work Shuteiga Ichigu for 29-member ensemble. In Gagaku, ”Ichigu” means a work consisting of multiple movements and all of the movements together constitute the work. In an interview by the National Theatre, Sukeyasu Shiba commented that Shuteiga Ichigu was composed of elements that were constructed in a way not seen in Gagaku composition and that his encounter with this piece that led to the formation of Reigakusha (the Reigakusha Gagaku Ensemble).

*2 Shikibushoku Gakubu (Music Department) of the Imperial Household Agency
This is the institution where the Gagaku tradition is passed on in the Imperial Palace. Shikibu-shoku is the abbreviation of the Shikibushoku Gakubu (Music Department) of the Imperial Household Agency. The Gagakuryo department was established the year 701 CE to be in charge of carrying on the Gagaku tradition. After the Meiji Restoration (1886), it was renamed the Gagakubu department of the Gagakuka division of the Gagakukyoku Bureau. And in 1921 it was renamed again as simply the Gakubu . It is the department in charge of Gagaku performances in ceremonies performed in the Imperial Palac, and in 1955, it was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the Japanese government. To become a Gagakubu musician, gakushi , after graduating from middle school, the candidate must pass a test to enter the music department of the Imperial Household Agency as a gakusei (music student) and study the necessary musical skills and knowledge for seven years to officially be accepted as a Gagakubu musician ( gakushi ). The duty of the gakushi is to carry on the Gagaku tradition, but they also study Western music so they can perform at occasions such as the Emperor’s dinner parties as well as taking part in the preservation of the Gagaku costumes, instruments and masks.

*3 Shoga
In Gagaku, before the musicians receive an instrument to play, they learn the melodies of pieces by singing them while tapping the rhythm on their knees. The shoga melodies sung are different for each instrument. For example, with the sho, the melody for the piece Etenraku is sung with the sounds boo ooo iiichi otsuuuu , but for the hichiriki flute it is chii raa roo rooru taaaruraa . There are no shoga melodies for the stringed instruments.

*4 One⁹
This solo work for sho was created by John Cage working in collaboration with Mayumi Miyata in 1991. As a tool for the composition process, Cage used a computer program intended for use in I Ching type divination to employ a chance operation for selecting sounds and to be inserted in time sequences and thus achieve a randomness and element of chance to the product. The work consists of ten short pieces of about 12 or 13 minutes each.

*5 Etenraku
This is the best known work in the Gagaku repertoire. The dance that originally accompanied it is lost and only the music for kangen (the wind and string instruments) remains.

*6 Gakke
The families that passed on the tradition of Gagaku performance from generation to generation.

Reigakusha Gagaku Concert
Reigakusha × Saburo Teshigawara
In an Autumn Garden
by Toru Takemitsu

(Nov. 30, 2016 at Tokyo Opera CIty Concert Hall)
Photo: JSouteyrat