I want to share with you some shakuhachi music which is not honkyoku, that is, music not written for the shakuhachi, and which has no association with monks or temples. The shakuhachi a large repertoire of ensemble music. The ensemble adds one or two stringed instrument and a singer. The strings are koto and samisen. The singer is typically one of the string players, and the song is a traditional poem.

Traditional Japanese music has no theory or practice of harmony. All the players perform the same melody, with slight variations. For instance, when the samisen part diverges from the shakuhachi, it usually plays the same notes, but offset by half a beat.

My original plan was to play you the piece I’m currently studying with my teacher. I recorded it, but did not like the result. I have pulled Kurokami (Black Hair) out of the archives, a recording I made a couple of years ago. If I were playing this now, I would probably play it a bit faster, but Kurahashi Sensei is always telling us to slow down this piece, and in this rendition, I took his advice to heart.

Kurokami was originally written for samisen, and in fact is one of the oldest pieces in the samisen repertoire. At some point a koto part and then a shakuhachi part were added. The melody was famously used in a kabuki drama.

The poem tells of a woman who is full of sadness, either because her lover has abandoned her, or because her hair is turning white (the silver snow piling up), depending on your interpretation.

It is the pillow
We shared that night,
When I let down
My jet-black hair.
That is the cause of my lament
When I sleep alone
With my single robe
To cover me.
‘You are mine,’ he said,

Not knowing the heart
Of a simple girl.
The voice of a temple bell,
Sounds into the quiet night.

Awakening from an empty dream
In the morning,
How lovely, sweet,
And helpless is my longing.
Before I know it
The silver snow has piled up.

2 thoughts on “Kurokami”

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