I had a gig on Sunday afternoon in Adelaide, in a quaint old stone building called “The Chapel” within the precinct of the Migration Museum. Afterwards, chatting with audience members (friends and strangers), I met Melvyn Cann, a silver-haired gentleman in an elegant, but slightly crumpled, purple suit and snake-skin shoes. He complimented me on my shakuhachi playing and talked of his sadness that, on the whole, musicians no longer perform with spiritual depth, not like they did in his youth (I am not expressing this as eloquently as he did). He was clearly a musician, and I soon discovered, also a poet. We exchanged details and I cheekily asked him for a review.
Sitting at the Adelaide airport on Monday night, I checked my emails just before boarding my flight home, and I found one from Melvyn. It contained the most remarkable review I have ever received. I am rather blown away. I look forward to my next encounter with Melvyn and the opportunity to hear this beautiful man play violin and recite his poetry.
Since flying back home, I have looked him up on the internet… What a story. In addition to including his review, and my programme notes, I have added some links to articles about Melvyn below. Well worth a look. Hopefully I can include links to his poetry and essays in the near future. He has some very interesting ways of talking about music, acoustics, healing and energy exchange. If you are in Adelaide for Mad March, look out for Melvyn playing his violin in the city centre. Definitely worth a listen!
Melvyn Cann’s review of Whispered Shadows:
a recital of shakuhachi with marimba, rim drum [and hidden soprano]
Migration Museum, Adelaide 1st March 2015
Serendipity brought me to Adelaide at the weekend, at the beginning of the Adelaide Arts Festival, and Serendipity brought me to a concert at the old chapel at the Migration Museum in Kintore Avenue. It is hard to imagine, in the whole of the Festival, that Serendipity could have chosen better. It was such an holistic experience, that I am reluctant to write about it, for fear of limiting the memory of it in words far less powerful than those of the Zen-like poetry of Anne Norman, that threaded its way through her magical performances on Shakuhachi flute, aided by the immaculate poetry of Ryzsard Pusz on Marimba and drumhead, and Sarah Wilmot, voice.
Even before the concert began, I heard myself remarking to another audience member, that I was moved almost to tears, only having read the programme notes. Anne’s gift for words is shown already in the titles of her pieces: Sculpted Silence, Whispered Shadows, Outside my window, Rain Now and Then, An Endless Afternoon, The light that whispers… together with traditional Zen titles: Tamuke (Offering), Spring Sea, Murasaki Reibo and Tsuru no Sugomori (Nesting Cranes). Add to that Ryszard’s adaptation of Atahualpa’s Lloran las ramas del vientro (Branches that cry in the wind) and you have a poetic promise, abundantly fulfilled by the works and the performances that followed.
On one level, the concert was a profound lecture, without words, on the intimate relationship between instrument and voice. The violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, once claimed that Paganini could greet his audience on the violin in several different languages. Menuhin did not mean just that Paganini could play stylistic fragments that would be recognised by listeners from different cultures. Menuhin was talking about the ability of an instrument to speak with the inflections of the vowels and consonants of language itself. In some of her own pieces, Anne alternates singing and playing in such a way that, after a while, as the melismas become more and more florid, you become unsure whether you are hearing her voice, or that of the flute, or both. Some of the most beautiful phrases were sheer, operatic colloratura, glowing with inner light, radiance and fluidity, but coming from a flute.
There were subtle, alchemical things, too… The programme made the spiritual transition from whispered shadows (past tense), near the beginning, to the light that whispers (present tense) at the end, an emblem, perhaps, of the transition through forgiveness (letting go of the past) to redemption (becoming free in spirit in the present). This final piece, in one way amongst the more simple works in the programme, contained a brilliant, climactic surprise. Just as Anne had earlier played with ambiguity of voice and instrument, here there was, if you like, tribiguity, for, only after a while, do you realise that a second voice, that of Sarah Wilmot, has been added to the mix of Anne’s voice, shakuhachi and marimba. It was a powerful moment when Sarah emerged from behind a screen, still singing and revealing the trick of it.
With this device, Anne draws upon the fluidity of the dialogue between personal identity and cosmic wholeness. In the Tao of Lao Tzu, it is written that, in the beginning, there was the One, the One became Two, and the Two became many. In this piece, what we had thought was one voice, Anne’s, became two, splitting like an amoeba… the principle of Creation… the next stage, the two becoming many is left unstated, to unfold in the transformed consciousness of the listener. By this simple device, Anne evoked the whole, joyous chorus of nature. The great film-maker, Antonioni, was, perhaps, the first creative artist to play with the blurred edges of personal identity, but his craft was turned to more nihilistic purpose. In Anne’s work there is joy in the discovery that you are not an isolated being in an otherwise alien universe, that there is fulfilment in merging with the whole, the message of Zen itself.
In all, it was a wonderful concert. Thank you, Anne, Ryszard and Sarah!
Melvyn Cann, 2nd March 2015
Websites about Melvyn Cann:
- The Age 2008: “Take a bow and beat burnout” http://www.theage.com.au/news/in-depth/take-a-bow-and-beat-burnout/2008/01/01/1198949808102.html
- Melvyn busking on violin – a video: https://vimeo.com/31136560
- The Advertiser 1954 – “Boy Polio victim’s success in music” http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/47621075
- Magic Realism: https://karenwyld.wordpress.com/tag/melvyn-cann/
- Art work: http://juxtaposestudios.com.au/artist-profiles/exstasis
- Melvyn now has his own blog. His poems are slowly being added and he is working on some essays to put out there for us all to read as well. Please check it out (still in its infancy…) https://melvyncann.wordpress.com
Whispered Shadows – Program notes:
Anne Norman – shakuhachi, with guest artist Ryszard Pusz – percussion
Sculpted Silence a poem by A Norman 2014
My 28 years of playing shakuhachi is filled with memorable moments of interplay with nature. At home, I do not listen to music and do not have a television, so when I play, I literally feel that I am sculpting silence, along with the birds and the wind. This poem makes reference to specific events in Japan, Australia and India.
Tamuke 手向 a traditional shakuhachi Zen meditation taught to me by Tajima Tadashi in 1990 and by listening to Yokoyama Katsuya (his teacher). It literally means “Offering” and has been passed down from the Priests of Nothingness 虚無僧 for the last 300 years. This Offering is in acknowledgement of my interconnection with all ephemeral life on earth: past and present, extinct and future. Performed on a 2.4 shakuhachi (in A).
Whispered Shadows for 1.8 shakuhachi (in D) by A Norman April, 2014
This piece began within the echoey walls of La chapelle Sainte Philomène – in Provence, France, in 2012. This 11th century stone chapel is in the middle of an encroaching forest on the side of a hill. The composition was completed two years later in the shadow of Mt Strzelecki on Flinder’s Island in Bass Strait, between walks in woodlands and along wild, windswept beaches. It departs from traditional shakuhachi performance techniques.
VARIACIONES SOBRE un TEMA de ATAHUALPA YUPANQI by Maximo Pujol 2001, transcribed & edited R Pusz in 2007
“Lloran las ramas del vientro” (branches that cry in the wind) by the folk composer Atahualpa Yupanqui provides the theme for this set of variations. The sadness of the piece mirrors the sadness seen in South America, indeed in the world, as winds have stripped the bark to form veneers of sophistication; veneers that hide the spilling of blood, hide the tears that fill the wells of history. This sadness is reflected in the marimba, whose wooden bars, made from those trees and shaved into uncompromising shape, are hit, and hit, and hit, with the (muted) heads of the mallets, and with the (sharp-sounding) handles. And so the leaves cry and spill more tears…
Spring Sea 春の海 by Miyagi Michio 1929
The opening section of a duo for koto (13-string zither) and 1.6 shakuhachi (in E) performed today on marimba and 1.3 shakuhachi (in G). Miyagi was an innovative composer who introduced compositional styles and influences from European Art music into his works for koto, while still incorporating the traditional pentatonic modal melodies.
Murasaki Reibo 紫鈴慕 by Ikkyuu Sojun (1394-1481)
This Zen meditation is unusual in that we know who composed it. Ikkyuu was an eccentric monk of 15th century Kyoto, who lived an itinerant life outside the temples, infamously hanging out with prostitutes, tavern folk and fishermen, celebrating the essence of Zen wherever he was. He also attracted the company of the leading artists of the day, and through him, Zen mind became central to many Japanese art forms: Visual arts, poetry, comic verse, Noh theatre, tea… all the vital arts of the day.
Tsuru no Sugomori – Nesting Cranes 鶴の巣籠 a traditional shakuhachi meditation
Nesting Cranes employs techniques rarely found in other ‘honkyoku’ (zen meditation) pieces. The voices and the activities of the crane and other aspects of the natural world are depicted through flutter tonguing, multiple trilling and harmonics. The cranes fly to Japan in October from Siberia and Mongolia and depart in March. The Tsuru (cranes) have become a symbol for environmental protection and the reclamation of wetlands in Japan.
ON THE OUTER: Allegro, Lento, Vivace by Ryszard Pusz 2003/ revised 2013
This piece draws for its inspiration on the beauty of the PTS design drumheads, an ensemble performance of a piece of Mark Ford’s, the hand drumming artistry of Glen Velez and the works of William Kraft. Each movement begins with the idea of a rhythmic cell, which is expanded upon using different playing techniques to elicit a variety of sounds from the drum. The drum is played on the outer, the techniques are on the outer of traditional Western playing traditions; and in this way the piece pays homage to the great ideas that come from the outer reaches of normal existence.
Outside my window a poem by A Norman Feb 2011 / reworked 2014
Rain Now and Then by A Norman 2011 for 1.8 shakuhachi (in D)
written at home in Mornington, Victoria, as the drought finally broke. Inspired by hearing the jazz singer, Rachelle Ferrell.
impro duo – spontaneous fun
An Endless Afternoon written by A Norman, September 2014
An endless sentence that now girts a yurt with a skirt on Flinder’s Island.
The light that whispers 1.8 & marimba…
Anne Norman is a shakuhachi performer, composer and poet living in Victoria and making a living touring Australia performing in schools as well as giving occasional collaborative recitals in Europe, Japan and America. Anne presented a major theatrical production for OzAsia in 2010 entitled An Afternoon Absurdi-Tea with Camellia Cha, incorporating her poetry and shakuhachi with nine musicians from India, China and Tibet. She has also performed in several Adelaide Festivals with the Melbourne ensemble Jouissance. Anne trained on shakuhachi (bamboo flute) in Japan in the mid 80s and early 90s after first doing a music degree on classical flute at Melbourne Uni. She studied under two shakuhachi masters in Japan, and then received a Japanese Government scholarship to study under a third teacher: Living National Treasure, Yamaguchi Goro. She is featured on several CDs.
Ryzsard Pusz, a renowned percussionist, widely acknowledged as Australia’s marimba master, has had over 70 pieces written for him by composers here and overseas and has appeared as soloist and conductor with orchestras, percussion ensembles, choirs, dance groups, and theatre presentations in Australia, Europe, USA and Asia. He has developed several unique playing techniques on marimba and a variety of hand drums. He has performed in International Festivals in Poland, Adelaide and Canada and in major music academies and concert halls throughout Europe, the USA, Australia, Asia and the Caribbean, and has worked in collaboration with filmmakers, theatre directors and visual artists to produce performance theatre events, music theatre, cinematic and theatrical productions. He introduced steelband and taiko to Australia, and steelband to the Middle East.
[surprise artist, soprano Sarah Wilmot, was not mentioned in the program notes for reasons of wishing to confuse the auditory senses of the audience]