Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (17)
Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 8: France – Part 2
Participating in the Avignon Festival: II
My tale of performing in France, which I started in the previous issue, was something that happened more than 30 years ago. At that time, my mother’s Kagurazaka restaurant, Kikuya, was operating, and my mother was about the same age as I am now. The shop was popular, and business was good. In addition to my shinnai activities, I helped her with shopping and cooking.
During a time when the restaurant was busy, I went on a month and a half overseas performance tour, leaving my young children and the busy restaurant to my mother. In hindsight, I regret having caused trouble for my mother, but I had enjoyable sightseeing and unusual experiences.
As we didn’t have any work for ten days between the Montpellier International Music Festival and the Avignon Festival, we traveled around in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Carrying “Thomas Cook” (the European Rail Timetable), we took the train from Avignon to Paris, and, from there, an international train. After visiting a friend in Bonn, we went to Switzerland and stayed overnight in Zermatt. The next morning was sunny, and we went up the Matterhorn by cable car. After we came down from the mountain, we went to Milan, Italy. The return train ran by the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We got off in Cannes and stayed a night there, after which we returned to Avignon.
This was a spontaneous trip, made with no advance hotel reservations. We had many delightful experiences along the way. When we got back to Avignon, we found that everyone had been worrying about us.
Because the Avignon Festival had invited groups from all over the world, the city was all in a bustle during the Festival time. We enjoyed the festival-related revelry in the city, but there was no exchange of friendship with groups from other countries. Our shinnai group stayed in a newly developed, quiet residential area far from the center of town, in a house with a garden. The four of us slept there and cooked for ourselves. We made friends with the children in the neighborhood, and enjoyed our time there very much. Sometimes, nostalgically remembering those days, I wonder what those cute children are doing now…… I think that we engaged in a major diplomatic exchange of good will with those small children.
Avignon is a sacred city that has experienced many transitions since the time of the Roman Empire. The children’s song, Sur le Pont d’Avignon, is well known, but more than half of that bridge has collapsed. The historical center of this wonderful city is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our performance was held in an old building made of stone. Although the inside walls of the building were bare stone, we felt a whiff of people’s existence there, maybe because of our feelings or perhaps because of the darkness and the weight of history. I felt that I wouldn’t be able to stay there alone late at night. Because ours was an evening performance, it was chilly, actually cold, rather than just cool, even though it was July.
In the stone building, the sound was lively, and the reverberation of the sound of the instruments was especially wonderful. But the human voice seemed somewhat overcome by the instruments’ sound. In traditional Japanese music, the singer (narrator) is accompanied by shamisen. The shamisen sound is not loud. The joururi of shinnai, especially, is both bold and delicate, and the shamisen musician plays each note carefully and beautifully, one by one. Together, they create the musical experience. Because shinnai joururi elegantly expresses tears, laughter, anger, and sadness, with sounds high and low, powerful and gentle, too much reverberation interferes with the communication of the contents. On the other hand, it isn’t possible to convey the psychological dimensions of a story out in the open air…… The venue in Avignon had the best atmosphere and mood for narrating shinnai.
The Avignon Festival brought together groups of performers from all over the world. The hall held about 200 people, none of whom was Japanese. At that time, compared to the present, the communication system was not well developed, and I was worried as to how well the audience would be able to understand the Japanese traditional performing arts. I had expected that the audience would enjoy the sound of the shamisen playing shinnai nagashi, but I wasn’t sure whether they would be impressed or surprised by the joururi. However, an article in a newspaper at that time said that our performance was fantastique. Even now, I question whether or not I should feel happy about that comment……
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, December 2015 – January 2016, issue #83)