I was lucky enough to visit Kyoto for a couple of days last week with my wife. It's a remarkable city. It can feel like a bustling metropolis at times, but a few minutes' walk can take you into a temple or shrine and you are transported into another time and place, surrounded by natural beauty, peace and quiet. At the time of our visit, the cherry blossom was in full bloom, making the city especially dreamlike.
As we wandered back to our hotel through a maze of back streets, I became aware of the sound of a shakuhachi emanating from an upstairs window. I stood and listened for a few minutes. I was unable to see the player, and I didn't feel I could knock and enter. The playing was masterful.
I didn't know the piece, but as I was listening, I realised I could visualise the player's fingers on the bamboo. I could feel the way the mouth was forming the notes, the pressure of the breath as the air was being pushed through the lips, the calmness and the control. Quite suddenly, I attained a deeper understanding of how it is to be completely in touch with a musical instrument.
That peculiar lesson from an unknown, invisible teacher stayed with me, and when I picked up my shakuhachi for the first time after arriving back home in Hiroshima, my attitude had subtly changed. I noticed my playing was a little more confident, the sound was more alive...