On Noh chant and responsibility

On Wednesday 25 June 2014 I took part to the event  Wayō no Saikai, which I have blogged about here. In the original plan Udaka Tatsushige, my teacher’s eldest son, was supposed to sing and dance Noh excerpts, as representative of the Japanese classical repertoire. Unfortunately Tatsushige-sensei was unable to make it to the performance so his father, Michishige-sensei, took his place. I took part in various Noh pieces that were performed during the evening, but what I was concerned the most with was the shimai dance excerpt from the Noh Yamamba, for which I was supposed to sing as the only jiutai chorus singer.

和洋の再会 2014 - 03

Shimai: ‘Yamamba’. Shite: Udaka Michishige. Photo: Stéphane Barbery.

Until now I have only sung in jiutai with other chanters – from a minimum of 2-3 to a maximum of 8, depending on the situation. This has been the first time for me to be the only singer in a shimai dance. When singing in a jiutai the most important thing is memorise the text and make sure that you follow the chorus leader. Ideally you should memorise the text and score perfectly, and sing with confidence while continuously paying attention to the chorus leader. However, if you are a beginner you will probably be told that the most important thing is not to get into other people’s way. In other words, don’t sing too loud, pay extra care to fit into the pauses, etc.

Things will start to change when as your understanding of rhythm, pauses, and fushi embellishments improves. Now you know enough to sing full force, which means that people are actually going to hear you! You won’t be able to hide behind a wall of other voices anymore. This stage is the beginning of a new phase which I feel I have now entered. Maturity means will and capability to be responsible for your own voice: you have to follow the leader but be able to continue singing even if someone makes a mistake. You have to be independent while harmonising with the others.

When I learned that Tatsushige-sensei could not make it to the performance, and that Michishige-sensei, my direct teacher, would stand in his place, I was rather worried: in a usual setting a junior/student like myself would dance, while the senior/teacher would sing. In addition, singing in a solo jiutai means that there is literally nowhere to hide, no one helping in case of emergency. It also means that (obviously) there is no leader to follow. This might have been my only chance in this life to sing as a soloist for Udaka-sensei. So I did it, and it went well. Udaka-sensei’s dance was easy to accompany even if Yamamba is a piece I had only rehearsed twice before the actual performance.

The other day I received the provisional programme for our forthcoming Gala Performance on August 17th (more news to come about this) and I spotted my Japanese name (高谷大悟 – Takaya Daigo) among the four jiutai chanters for a bulk of shimai that other students will dance. This is a position that, in our school, only professional take. A good sign, I think.

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4 responses to “On Noh chant and responsibility

    • I rehearsed the chant with the dancer twice (once with Tatsushige, once with Michishige) but of course I memorised the chant by myself, and that required dozens of solitary repetitions!

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