Five Minutes

There is one lesson I had over a year ago with Geni Skendo that I still think about often during every practice session. Near the beginning of the lesson, during the warmup exercises, Geni instructed me to play a particular exercise for five minutes. After a minute or so I started losing the tone and abandoned the exercise in an attempt to find the tone again. Geni immediately asked what I was doing. When I explained, he pointed out that it is very important for effective practice to complete the exercises I set out to do, that five minutes isn’t a long time, and to continue the exercise to completion.

In subsequent practice sessions I noticed that unless I consciously timed myself I very seldom would continue any exercise for a full five minutes. Experimenting, I started practicing Ro-buki making it a point to check the clock and make note of the start time, when I felt like I must have been playing for five minutes I’d check the clock again. After many runs of this experimentation, the results were almost invariable that I’d find considerably less than five minutes had passed.

What in the world was going on? Did time slow down while I was practicing Ro-buki? Ignoring the obvious connection of the relaxing shakuhachi tones to perceptual changes that I believe may also be a contributing factor, it became apparent to me how much energy it took to play shakuhachi. A good part of my reasoning that five minutes must have passed was based on how fatigued I had become during the less than five minute interval.

The observation of how much energy goes into five minutes of playing shakuhachi combined with the fact that many traditional honkyoku are five minutes of duration or longer, Western classical pieces often exceed five minutes, and even a few repetitions of Japanese folk-songs or Western popular songs will take up a good portion of a five minute interval, serves to point to how important it is to build the stamina to comfortably play shakuhachi for five minutes. I can’t say that I’ve developed the discipline to always work on an exercise or Ro-buki for a full five minutes, and I’m often amused how I almost always, I believe subconsciously, find something to interrupt me during the practice of the common “beginner” piece Kyorie, that is usually about 10 minutes in duration. However, those words from Geni about the importance of continuing an exercise for a full five minutes were very profound and enlightening, and aside from improving my own playing, have given me a great appreciation and insight to how much energy the shakuhachi masters are putting into their brilliant performances.

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