Category Archives: World music

Japan 2016

On this visit, I was introduced to Japanese hosts in the temple town of Kamakura, who invited me to stay for three weeks in their empty in-laws’ house in the garden. Imagine having a whole Japanese house to yourself in Japan! I could not believe my luck. Kamakura is set up (as are many parts of Tokyo by the way), with tiny lanes barely big enough for a single car to pass, adjacent  to the wider, more highly trafficked, two-laned streets.

Most of the houses are hidden behind high hedges. The sensation is of deep deep green, coolness, and quiet. And I was surrounded by nightingales, the most beautiful of sounds. Except for their calls, all you hear are the sound of footsteps in the street, then in the morning, the children come rushing and shouting on the way to school. It is so quiet that people remark on unusual noises. So although I never met them, my hostess told me I had became famous in the neighborhood because of my practicing.

We lived closest to Jyomyoji (Polish Your Heart Temple), and early on the first morning after my arrival, my hostess took me to see it. It was early May, and we were the first ones there. After paying the young Buddhist acolyte at the entrance, we walked up the stone steps that led to the covered gate, and stepped onto the gravel path leading towards the main hall. On each side of us we saw ancient plum trees, covered in lichen and moss, and the new green of spring leaves. When I looked more closely, I saw  that their branches were covered with small flowering orchids. The wind came in warm gusts and sudden wild bursts, and a nightingale began its song.

I walked tasting the air, in an intoxication of the day. After visiting the Buddha, we spotted a dry garden surrounded by flowering azaleas, and wandered closer. A pavilion overlooked it, Would I like some tea — entering for tea was the best place to view the garden — (yes!) — so we stepped out of our shoes, and found a spot on the red felt carpet closest to the garden. Dark stones emerged from white gravel raked in arcs to depict water: a dry seascape. A young female monk brought the bowls of tea, for me a low squat bowl glazed in burnt Sienna with gobs of white; for S, a round white bowl that picked up the green of the tea; and sweets on small lacquer plates with a toothpick,  We ate our wagashi sweets first (they are stamped with the name of Ashikaga Yorikane, the bushi who originally owned the land here), and drew three long draughts of the well-frothed, deep green, bitter tea.

My two official performances were in Kita-ku at Hokutopia, a hall where traditional Japanese musicians often play, and then at Nihonbashi Shakai Kyoikukaikan, in downtown Tokyo. The photo below was taken while I was performing Namima Reibo (Rythm of the Waves) in Nihobashi.

Elizabeth playing Namima reibo (Rythm of the Waves) June 4, 2016

Elizabeth playing Namima reibo (Rythm of the Waves) June 4, 2016

I also played twice at the home of a fan of mine who invites her friends and prepares a wonderful meal to eat afterwards. I needed to have my shakuhachi repaired, and was introduced to a very able young man by Aoki Shoji, my teacher Reibo’s son, and went every week for ensemble practice with one of the Reibokai koto (zither) teachers.

Another project was to meet a composer on the Sea of Japan, who was interested in writing a piece for the shakuhachi. She lives with her husband in an artists’ conclave in the woods. I arrived on the full moon of May, and after dinner, they asked me if I would like to go down and listen to the frogs under the full moon. Of course I said, “Yes!” We descended down a dark path from the house towards a pond. We could hear the sound of the Japanese bullfrogs going “meu meu meu” (not an American sound, so pronounce as in French, or between a “muh” and a “meh”) The moon was sailing high in the sky. With no electricity in any direction, the sky was pitch black. Then we moved towards the rice paddies. Immediately the air was filled with a roar of frogs, two kinds, one going “chakachakachakachaka” and the others going “wa wa wa wa” in synchopation. I could hardly hear myself think. If one of us began to say something, they would stop instantly; if we stayed quiet without moving, they would start up again, and from the other pond would come “meu meu meu” from the bullfrogs. And meanwhile the moon, hidden, came out from behind a cloud.

Below is a picture of me beneath a thousand-year old cedar at Eiheiji, a temple founded by the monk Dogen in the 17th century, to which my friends took me. Eiheiji has been the central temple for Soto Zen (known as slow Zen, as compared to the more well know Rinzai or fast Zen) in Japan, and young men bound to become priests at their home temples come here for training.

Elizabeth at Eiheiji

Elizabeth at Eiheiji



Sunday, February 7th, 2016. 3PM

Tufts Sunday Concert Series: Tufts’ “All-Star” Performance Faculty.

The outstanding performance faculty of the music department joins select student musicians in a concert of wide-ranging repertoire of instrumental and vocal chamber music, works for chamber orchestra, world music, and jazz.

The world music part will include the shakuhachi and other world instruments in a premiere composition by our Hindustani singer, Warren Senders.

Distler Hall. Free; no tickets required

Friday, April 24th 2015, 12:00 PM. Tufts’ Distler Hall. New at Noon: Resiliant Ruminations — Ants in the Kitchen

4-24-15 New at Noon #4 Poster

This is the last concert of the year for Tufts composers, and I will play a new piece called “A Tale” by Cagdas Donmezer. The first part of the piece looks promising, and I’m waiting to see the rest on Thursday (tomorrow)!

For more information, follow the link above.

As usual, free and open to the public.

Friday, March 27th. All Night Music Festival

2015_tufts_all_nighterIf you are feeling in a mood to hear more shakuhachi in March, save Friday, March 27th at the All Night Music Festival at Tufts, Distler Hall, to hear me play a single long piece, “Mukaiji Reibo”, or “The Sound of a Flute from the Mist-Shrouded Sea”, a companion to “Koku”, above. Check back for the posters.


This event is free and open to the public

Monday, November 3, 2014 8PM. What’s New in Bamboo

What's New in Bamboo

What’s New in Bamboo

For this concert Elizabeth Reian will play premieres by Martin Shcreiner of Harvard; Tufts’ grad composers Wei Yang and Cagdas Donmezer; as well as a duet for two shakuhachis by John McDonald; and  a traditional piece. Composer and shakuhachi player Chris Molina also will appear with New York shakuhachi artist Marco Lienhard in pieces he has created.

The pieces we’ll be playing span traditional, to modern and contemporary. So expect to hear cranes, see birds of paradise, and hear new ideas and imagination at work. You’ll also hear three shakuhachi players from different genealogies, with different playing styles, a unique experience at Tufts.

Distler Hall, Granoff Music Center, 20 Talbot Ave., Somerville.  Info: (617) 627-3679

Free and open to the public

Japan Trip 2014

Elizabeth Reian Bennett Tokyo 2014. Photo: Reibokai

Elizabeth Reian Bennett Tokyo 2014. Photo: Reibokai

My trip to Japan this summer was extremely useful and great fun. This will be about music, and I’ll talk about my visit to a part of Japan new to me, Shizuoka Precture, in another blog.

I’ve been to Japan now twice without a shakuhachi teacher, as Aoki Sensei no longer teaches. I am aware of the fact that as someone who travels only every other year to Japan, and lives in the United States, there is still a huge amount to learn, and I needed to find a way to do that. So I decided to approach a  friend and Reibokai colleague to critique Sokaku Reibo or “Nesting Cranes”, which I would be performing.

K rented a room for us at a karaoke place in Kashiwa, northeast of Tokyo, not far from where he lives, at three bucks an hour. This is a real deal in Japan! And useful in a place like Tokyo where space is limited and walls are thin, especially for noise-making activities. Apparently many musicians use these rooms to practice as all are soundproofed.

We arrived at the building: quite a few stories, and filled to the top with karaoke rooms. Our room reeked of cigarette smoke, karaoke songs were blaring from the screen and we couldn’t find the lights, so we called for help. A padded vinyl sofa circled the room; a table exactly fitted into the space in the middle. Once it was quiet and the lights had been turned on, I folded my legs under me and began to play, kneeling on the couch.

K listened and made notes. I had known that cranes are a national image and symbol of marriage and fidelity, but K told me how the piece is traditionally played: the indigenous crane represents the tenderness and respect between parents and children, and thus – I was to pull back on sections I had earlier learned in lessons as places to “attack”, in particular, a famous flutter tongue section which is very difficult in the first half of the piece. I discovered that there is another flutter technique, which he recommended I interpolate with the flutter of the tip of the tongue, in order to “darken” or calm the pyrotechnics of that method, and this is the throat or uvula flutter, which I had never been taught, in fact, had never heard of! This must be developed from the gargle you feel in your throat when you brush your teeth or gargle salt water with a cold. He said he would walk me through it on Skype when I got home.

He also told me about clustering the repeated notes in small, odd numbered groups: this piece has repetitions of nine and seven times on the same note throughout. I found it all fascinating, as this is the first time I have ever discussed a piece: my whole training has been done in complete silence. Aoki Sensei did not allow talking!

Then K sat down and wrote alternate fingerings for the impossible meri notes (the chin-in position) which cannot be played quickly because of the difficulty of their fingerings and head positions, like E flat and F sharp, which I must now teach myself. This will speed up difficult passages in contemporary music considerably, although the shakuhachi will never match the speed and clarity produced by the keys of a western flute.

We had met on a Thursday; I played “Nesting Cranes” the following Saturday, and got bravos – my first! I had no idea Japanese listeners would shout in jiuta (chamber music); at least I had never heard it before, but I know it’s done in Kabuki, so why not jiuta? There is a special moment in Kabuki when this happens, by the way; the actor steps out onto the hanamichi, the part of the stage that extends from the main stage through the audience, almost dancing, in a regal, stylized way, and will freeze as he takes poses. For example, raise his arms, cross his eyes, turn his head, and pause. At which point, aficionados will cry out his name from the audience. They flash out in uneven clusters like popcorn bursting from the kernel, part of the excitement of the moment – the Japanese version of a bravo. A friend told me that some Kabuki veterans are given free tickets in exchange for the masterly timing of their calls. I wonder if those old connoisseurs of kabuki are still there in the back of the hall? The old theater has been replaced, and many of the old lovers of the art will be gone. All things western are the great attraction in Japan now, not the old inscrutable, indigenous ones.

I am playing “Nesting Cranes” in the photo above, and as I write this, have learned the uvula technique. The Japanese compare it to the sound of the suzumushi, called a ‘bell ring’ insect in the dictionary – we don’t have it here. The flutter in the throat passes over the tongue and vibrates in the lips to produce a very even, distinctive trill, unlike the tongue flutter, which is more dramatic, breathy and uneven.


Saturday, April 12, 2014, 3PM An Afternoon of Japanese Flute

takagi solo 2002

The Varis Performing Arts Series, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Grafton, MA

To be held in the Kohnstamm Conference Room of the Jean Mayer Administration Building
201 Westboro Road
North Grafton, MA 01536

Elizabeth Reian will describe the early history of the shakuhachi, and include a selection of pieces that will range from early to contemporary, including an instrumental piece, Song of the Moon, and City of Lights, by John McDonald; with time for questions at the end.

Fans, come with your cameras and send me some pics! Signed CDs available at the venue.

World Music Concert April 6th , 3PM. Distler Hall, Tufts University


4-6-14 WEFT Faculty Concert Poster


 This concert will feature members of the world music program from the Tufts Music Department on the Japanese shakuhachi (Elizabeth Reian Bennett), Japanese koto (Cathleen Ayakano Read), Hidustani voice and accompaniment (Warren Senders), ethnic violin (Beth Bahia Cohen), ‘ud (Mal Barsamian), accordion (Michael McClaughlin), banjo (Rich Stillman), and guests.

Distler Hall, Tufts University.
Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center,
20 Talbot Avenue,
Medford, MA 02155
Directions, PDFs & more:
Information: 617.627.3679


Friday, March 28th 2014, 10:15 PM. Birds in My Heart: Nesting Cranes

wilson above edAs an experiment, Tufts University’s Music Department will have an all-night round of concerts on Friday, March 28th, and this is one. In Japan, Sokaku Reibo, or Nesting Cranes, is usually played in ten to twelve minute excerpts culled from the main piece, as it lasts 45 minutes when played in its entirety.  Multiple repetitions are skipped, as well as major parts of the composition, and the whole nature of the original is essentially unknown. Tufts’ Elizabeth Reian Bennett, shakuhachi Grand Master, will present a first full performance of this piece since the 19th century.

The sacred crane, symbol of happiness, vocalizes and dances throughout the day, and both sexes rear their young. In feudal times, only one crane a year was allowed to be killed, as a gift for a special feast for the emperor. This piece is a description in sound of the calls between the parent cranes and their nestlings, set among the leaping and prancing of the flock, and the lisp and suck of the marsh mud.

To see the cranes go to:

3-28-14 Granoff Al Night Music Festival TWiTM Image

Distler Hall, Tufts University.
Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center,
20 Talbot Avenue,
Medford, MA 02155
Directions, PDFs & more:
Information: 617.627.3679

Shakuhachi Lecture Demonstration on October 15


Tuesday, October 15, 2013, 7 PM

Medford Public Library
111 High St., Medford, MA 02155

info: 781-395 -7950

All About the Japanese  Flute with Elizabeth Reian Bennett

In this performance and talk, Elizabeth will introduce the shakuhachi: how it is made, played and the culture in which it is rooted. This will be followed by a selection of pieces from the early days of the wandering monks, the later ensemble repertory, and a composition written for her by local composer John McDonald.

Supported in part by the Medford Arts Council and by the Friends of the Medford Public Library, and specially promoted by Arts Across Medford