*1 Satsuma Biwa
The Satsuma Biwa originated from the Biwa that was used by blind monks in Satsuma (present day Kagoshima Prefecture) and was adapted for use as an instrument to help in the intellectual training of members of the warrior (samurai) class with lyrics written by Jisshinsai (Lord Jisshin Shimazu) and music by the blind monk Juchoin (Ryoko Fuchiwaki). These pieces were written to convey the moral teachings of Buddhism and Confucianism in easy to understand terminology. But because the players were Satsuma samurai, as the times evolved into a period of civil wars. That time was the age of provincial wars, the content and expressive quality of Satsuma Biwa became increasingly valiant and heroic. With this, the influence of the ethical message of Jisshinsai, and that of the lyrical laments of women in lyric like “Xun yang jiang” of Bai Letian brought a tone of sadness to Satsuma Biwa music.
As for the musical qualities of Satsuma Biwa, there is a style of playing all the strings at a fast tempo and singing in an equally bold style called Kuzushi and a contrasting style of more melodic and sorrowful songs called Gingawari. What’s more, there is a type of full volume vocalization close to that of the Gidayubushi ballad drama that uses the full depth of voice from the abdomen which is different from the usual rather subdued voice used in most traditional Japanese Hogaku music. In this sense it is clear that the Satsuma Biwa music inherits a strong influence of the Martial spirit of the Satsuma warrior class.
*2 Kinshi Tsuruta (1911 – 95)
Born in Takikawa city in Hokkaido, Kinshi Tsuruta was a Satsuma Biwa player and composer. She started the Biwa as a child through the influence of an older brother, and at the age of seven moved to Tokyo to study under the master Gensui Komine. There, she mastered the Kinshin-ryu style of Satsuma Biwa and began performing professionally and teaching younger apprentices from before the age of 20. Later, however, she turned to a successful period as an entrepreneur. Kinshi made her return debut as a Biwa performer in 1955. In 1964, she composed and performed her piece Dannoura for the Masaki Kobayashi film Kaidan (Ghost Story), and this led to her meeting the composer Toru Takemitsu. In 1967, she performed Takemitsu’s piece November Steps to international acclaim. In Kinshi’s ongoing quest for ever higher levels of deeply expressive Biwa music, she made revolutionary changes in the Biwa as an instrument and in Biwa performance.