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I’ve had two lessons with Sensei Hisa Uzawa who is a professional Noh performer, very active in the Kawasaki Theater, among others.  She is giving me lessons in Shimai, Noh dance.  Because of her busy schedule, later this month her professionally performing daughter, Hiraku will also provide lessons.  The profound impact Noh has had on me in such a short time reflects my past, on-going search for a tradition that connects both ancient ritual, spiritual practice, imagination, storytelling and powerful communication through both sound and body expression.  As a very young girl, my heroes were Marcel Marceau, Shirley Temple, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.  I ached to learn how to pull myself out of a box that wasn’t there, walk against an imaginary wind that was “blowing me over”, tap dance on the walls and in puddles, and sing about made-up words I could create with my dinner food.  I would sing Carmen from Bizet’s opera because my Mother and Father were certain I would be a mezzo-soprano, and I’d invent ways to quiver my voice just right to get that perfect emotional waver (aka “vibrato”).   For about 25 years now, many lengthy, complex conversations with fellow performers in my field of study –as well as in others– have been had regarding:

* body position: ” so, the back is straight but where do the hips go?  how far should you ‘stick out your butt’? where is your balance, on the leg in front or back.  Do you stand forward or slightly off to the side? don’t stick out your neck, balance your head on top.” etc…

*the center of power: Where/how do you access that?

* the connection between you and the audience, you and the work of art (the music, score, etc.), you and your instrument, you and the other players, you and the physical space, etc.

* our history, social impact and social statements

* the connection between the intellect and the spiritual messages of our work

So here I am, with only 2 Noh lessons under my belt, and already ALL of these issues have been not only addressed but actually brought to light in a manner that has my head spinning.  Despite the fact that I cannot understand most of the Japanese language, my teacher is wise and skilled enough to be able to communicate the deep philosophical as well as the technical aspects of this tradition with great finesse.

1.  Power comes from deep inside you, about 2 cm below your bellybutton, and inward from your bum (I’m trying to be polite with my words, but you get the idea…I hope).  There is a point there, if you draw a line inward where two lines intersect: That is your center of power.

2.  We are connected through many lines, threads, a network.  Imagine all these lines, threads, strands, cords, filaments connecting to you.  All of them…you are a kind of hub.

3.  Imagine these lines pulling you, tugging at you.

4.  Resist them.

this is the energy, your resistance, or, do you give in?  Which lines are the ones you give in to?  Which ones are you resisting?  How much will you resist?

Remember the book:  Zen and the Art of Archery?  I’ve had plenty of conversations about this book as well: about the resistence, the force of the arc and when to let go of the bow.  The sound, the music, the essence of the sound should never be played or “let out”, until you’ve achieved this resistance.  When I improvise, I am constantly thinking about this because my basic question, when improvising, is WHY PLAY?

Why play unless your life depends on it?  …Unless the music depends on it?

There is no other reason to play because really, the music is already there.  Our jobs, as sonic creators is to make audible what is inaudible to others.  But timing is everything, and if sound doesn’t happen at the right moment, then it’s likely to be rendered worthless.

If the sound doesn’t stem from the center of power then it’s a feeble attempt to communicate.  So hold on to that resistance.  Don’t give it away. Don’t give in too soon.  Wait.



showing me how to walk

one of the characters...

Noh character


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