Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (33)
Thoughts about the “I-Ro-Ha” (ABCs) of Shinnai: 4
Translator’s Note: This essay is a continuation of the series started in #30 (see below in this blog, February-March 2018 issue of the Kagurazaka Community Magazine), in which Wakasanojo uses I-Ro-Ha and so on to label the items. The translation of the essays in this series gives the original Japanese heading in English letters (romaji) for each item, followed by the translated heading. For a fuller explanation, see the Translator’s Note in essay #30.
No: Nodo (seitai) wa kotoba wo hassuru gakki
(26) The vocal cords are a musical instrument for producing spoken lines
It goes without saying that the voice is generated by the vocal cords, after which the sound comes out of the mouth. Musically, the voice is like an instrument that, when played, produces a melody. High tones resonate in the head and low ones in the chest, but although the point of resonance is different, the source of both is the vocal cords. It is from this instrument that Japanese sentences are narrated.
O: Ongaku dewanai ongaku, joururi wa fumen ni naranai joururi
(27) Joururi is music in a sense, but it’s not music that can be written on a musical staff
Generally speaking, music is performed by an artist who reads the notes written in a musical score. Both instrumental and vocal music are performed in that way. Although joururi is “narrative song”, joururi cannot be conveyed fully by notes written on a musical staff. There are many spoken lines (vocal lines), and, most importantly, joururi artists perform using their unique melody and timing, so that the result is very much dependent on the performer, rather than on a written score. That is why joururi cannot be referred to simply as “music”.
Ku: Kuden wa shisho ni ari, te’pu (denshi kiki) wa shi ni arazu
(28) Shinnai training is done by the teacher’s oral instruction; tapes and tape recording equipment are not teachers
Traditional music is passed down from teacher to student through an oral tradition. Seated directly in front of the teacher, the student listens and remembers. That is keiko. (See essay #32, items 17, 18, 21, and 23.) Students learn not only from listening to the teacher’s performance, but also from the teacher’s frequent criticism. Recently, students study using electronic recording equipment. That is not keiko. Studying with a tape is like singing karaoke, in that the student receives no advice, correction, or criticism. There is no reason to improve.
Ya: Yakusoku goto, kime goto oshi dento no sekai
(29) In the world of the traditional arts, there are many conventions and rules
The form of performances is set out in detail. There are also customs implicitly agreed upon by the teacher and the students. In addition, when performing on stage, artists should not wear accessories, such as rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and watches. Also, if eyeglasses are worn, they should not have a frame. Bare feet are unacceptable on stage. Neither men nor women should have bangs. There are many other rules, such as that performers’ hair should be its natural color.
Ma: maebiki wa shinnai no tokucho no hitotsu
(30) One of the characteristics of shinnai is maebiki, the shamisen introduction at the start of a work
In shinnai works, before the joururi performer starts, the shamisen players perform a kind of prelude, called maebiki. Which maebiki is used is generally set for particular works; mainly, the maebiki is one that is considered suitable for the content of the story. When the maebiki begins, the audience feels a sense of excitement about the work they are going to hear.
Ke: Gei wa hito nari
(31) Performance skill depends on a person’s humanity
This is the most important maxim. One’s character, not one’s performance skill, determines one’s humanity and style of living. The arts, especially, show a performer’s personality. People’s character and basic nature are directly reflected in their art. Their personality is revealed in their expression and their voice. This is interesting, but it is also scary.
Fu: Furyu na shinnai nagashi wa shinnai ni arazu
(32) Shinnai nagashi is elegant, but it is not real shinnai
When people speak of shinnai, they think of shinnai nagashi, but …… a result is that they do not think of shinnai as a serious art. Nagashi is fundamentally not real shinnai. Among the shamisen arts of the Edo Period, shinnai was the only one that did not collaborate with kabuki, traditional dance, or puppetry. As a result, shinnai performers relied entirely on income from giving lessons. Shinnai nagashi was another way for shinnai performers to earn a living. Ordinary people loved shinnai nagashi, so it has continued to be performed up to the present day. Nagashi is elegant and emotional, but it damages the image of real shinnai.
Ko: Koe mo waza mo shiagatte kara gei to naru
(33) After achieving the goal of producing a true shinnai voice and mastering shinnai techniques, one becomes an artist
In the Japanese classical performing arts, discipline of one’s spirit is often considered to be a priority. To master the way of the arts, a disciplined spirit is important, but many people are more concerned about spirit and theory, and neglect the importance of technique. First, the voice should be trained and the individual should learn technique. Then, the world of the arts can be entered.
・え 演じて動かず 静に動あり
E: Enjite ugokazu sei ni do ari
(34) Perform without moving; there is movement in immobility
Of course, Japanese traditional artists kneel when they are performing. For the duration of a work, a joururi performer, wearing a kimono bearing the crest of the performer’s professional family, kneels in front of a music stand (kendai) on which the libretto is placed. During the performance, the performer’s facial expression does not change and the performer’s hands do not move. The story’s scene and the happiness and sadness of the characters are conveyed by the performer’s voice, while the performer looks straight ahead. However, when a performer is expressing feelings such as laughter, anger, or crying, the performer’s facial expressions will naturally show these emotions. Joururi is a one-person concert opera in which the performer never moves.
Te: Denshi zuno ni wa fukano na joururi
(35) Joururi is impossible for a computer
AI (Artificial Intelligence) is rapidly improving, and will contribute much in the society of the future. However, AI is impossible in artistic fields, especially in our world of joururi. It may be possible to teach a machine the content, setting, characters, and emotional factors of a story, but the special simultaneous breathing of the performer and the shamisen players, and how the performer’s way of life and thinking influence the performance cannot be input as information into AI. In my opinion, this difference is comparable to the difference between machine printing and calligraphy, between artificial flowers and ikebana. The greatest difficulty for AI is the expression of true love, of human love.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, August-September, 2018, issue #99)