The Big Island: A Closer Look

While Tim has been playing the shakuhachi, touring Hilo, and adding new posts, I have been exploring, taking pictures, and thinking about adding new posts. Our next door neighbor at Dolphin Bay Hotel remarked just yesterday when I commented on the beautiful weather, “Another day in paradise.”  I agree. I have alternated days of  looking for potential pictures with days of packing up my gear and actually taking the pictures.

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Fibonacci Sequence

I was thinking the other day about the Fibonacci Sequence. I don’t remember why.

The Fibonacci Sequence is an infinite list of numbers. The first number, F1, is 1. F2 is 1. Then the nth number, Fn, is Fn-1 + Fn-2. For example, F3 = F2 + F1 = 2. Thus the first seven numbers are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and 13.

There are many articles describing how Nature loves this sequence. You can find Fibonacci numbers in the spirals of sunflower seeds or pine cones. You can also find writers who debunk the idea, accusing its proponents of collecting examples that bolster their case, and ignoring contrary data.

In any event, true or not, it is a poetic idea. I asked Suzy to find some Fibonacci in Nature. I used the sequence to determine the number of syllables in a line. I stopped at 13. It was fun, if you like to play around with words, and ideas, and puzzles. The challenge is to make the phrases fit the line, as much as possible. I invite you to give it a try. There are worse ways to spend a few hours. Post your results in the comments.
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Tsumi Kusa

This is another ensemble piece (for you, Lee, since you liked Kurokami), originally written for koto, and which later acquired a shakuhachi part. It was composed during the Meiji period (late 19th century), when Japan replaced the shogunate with a more representative government, and generally attempted to remake the entire society along western, i.e. modern, lines. In koto music this meant composing in a way that had more popular appeal.

The title means cutting grass, and there is some poetry that goes with it, but I have not been able to find a translation. The melodies are unusual in the use of the pentatonic scale, which gives the piece a particularly simple feel, like folk music.

Ensemble music is divided into sections, which are either instruments plus voice (singing sections) or instruments without voice. The singing sections are slow; the instrumental sections are typically fast, and provide an opportunity for the performer to show off how quickly she can move her fingers. Commonly, as in this piece, the singing sections come at the beginning and end, bracketing one or more instrumental sections.

We are returning to the Real World tomorrow, so this will be my last post in Days of Art. I hope you’ve enjoyed the music, and I am grateful for your time and attention.


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.

Discovering art on the Greenway

I discovered a poetry box on my walk on the Greenway.  See Block Island Poetry Project for information on the project.