I asked Brian Tairaku Ritchie to participate in an interview and he was kind enough to do so. Her are his insights and answers. Thanks Brian!

• How long have you been playing shakuhachi?

I started playing shakuhachi in 1996 right after moving to New York City.

• How did you first become exposed to the shakuhachi?

The first time I encountered a shakuhachi was in my teen years when Ensemble Nipponia played in Milwaukee but it didn't make much of an impression on me. Second time was in Japan Town San Francisco, where I saw one in a shop and tried to play it. I was impressed by the fact that I couldn't get a sound because I am a natural multi-instrumentalist and this failure baffled me. The third time was at at flute conference in Times Square NYC and that was the time I got a sound and bought one. Luckily for me James Nyoraku heard he trying out the flute and handed me his business card.

• What aspects of the shakuhachi most appealed to you when you discovered it?

I was attracted to the simplicity of it, and the fact that it was portable and could be played solo. I was intrigued by the association with zen, because I was practicing zazen and thought a musical meditation practice might suit me better. And then the sound of it got me because of its hypnotic nature.

• What teachers do you feel have had the biggest impact on your playing and conceptions of the flute?

James Nyoraku Schlefer had a great influence upon me because he's the guy who actually taught me how to play. So he's number one. After that I have taken the most lessons with Yodo Kurahashi II and learned a tremendous amount from him not only about playing but also his humorous and insightful anecdotes. John Singer has had a huge influence on me not only from studying Kinko music with him but also because he is the most knowledgeable person in the West (and more knowledgeable than most Japanese players) about flutes. I took quite a few lessons from Ronnie Seldin, he's quite a devoted shakuhachi person. Marco Leinhard and Michael Chikuzen Gould are other people I've studied a bit with, and then a lot of the people who visited the festivals or NYC for workshops.

• What schools of music have you studied and play?

I am licensed to teach Jin Nyodo style which is a great place to be because that encompasses Kinko honkyoku and gaikyoku, Nezasaha, Myoan and some minyo and gagaku pieces. It's a well rounded repertoire. I've also picked up pieces here and there from other Myoan schools, Yokoyama style and some others. I also play jazz, blues, rock and other songs on the shakuhachi but that's stuff I developed on my own.

• Do you have one style of music you tend to play more?

I have been playing a lot of the simpler Myoan honkyoku lately because my main practice takes place in my teahouse, Chado-The Way of Tea. It suits the ambiance. And I do a fair bit of improvisation, usually on jazz tunes or minyo themes.

• How have your conceptions of the flute most changed now that you have so much more experience in the culture and the instrument?

When I started I was a fundamentalist. I only played traditional Japanese music. Gradually I was asked to do crossover stuff in Western music and because of my previous musical experience that was easy. Once that door opened I started to see the possibilities with that and developed many of my own concepts along those lines which are embodied in my CD's. But honkyoku is still my first love and that's what I spend most of my time on.

• As I understand it you have earned your Jun Shihan license. What school or schools have issued you a Jun Shihan license?

By the time you publish this I'll be a Shihan. Kurahashi Sensei offered me one a long time ago but gave me the option of waiting until he changed his name to Kurahashi Yodo II which happens in a few days. I received my Jun Shihan from James Nyoraku Schlefer and the calligraphy was done by Kurahashi Sensei. James, Ronnie and Yoshio got together and came up with my name "Tairaku". This is related to the Jin Nyodo style.

• Do you teach very often? If so do you find you do more in person lessons or online?

I teach only face to face. I have some students, but unfortunately I have yet to develop any students to advanced levels because since I started teaching I haven't stayed in one place long enough.

• As I understand it you have a rather large shakuhachi collection. When did you begin seriously collecting shakuhachi?

I have a pretty serious collection of shakuhachi but that's not because I'm a collector. A collector would just stick to one type or maker or some other systematic plan. I just bought a lot of flutes I like to play. None of them were purchased because of they are collectable. I have a collection of notation, woodblock prints, tengai, komuso garb, books, CD's and other shakuhachi memorabilia.

• Is there one particular type of shakuhachi you prefer over another when you are looking for a flute to add to the collection?

It's very subjective. I just play the flute and if I love it (and I can afford it) I'll consider buying it. I tend to like large bore flutes preferably with a wide diameter and large holes. This is because of the fact that I'm a big guy. But if the tone is engrossing and complex I can admire any flute. Usually if I play a flute and it causes a tingling sensation in my head like being hit with an acupuncture needle I'll take a closer look at the shakuhachi. I'm more interested in the energy transfer of a flute than in normal musical concerns. I consider them vectors for energy.

• If you were to choose one flute in your collection you are really fond of which one would it be and why?

I have a delicious jinashi 1.8 by Okubo Kodo. Kodo was a Kinko maker who made normal two piece jiari Kinko flutes early in his career. Then he was influenced by Watazumi to make jinashi Myoan flutes later in his career. This is of the latter type. I can really get lost in the tone of this flute. It is unique in my collection in that every note has a perfect tone. Usually shakuhachi have some notes that speak better than the others. I also love it because it fits very well in my hands. Honorable mention to an old Myoan 2.0, my favorite Taimu, a 2.3 called "Frankenschwantz", a 2.0 wide bore by Gudo Ishibashi and a 3.0 Taimu which is the most powerful very long flute I've found.

• You were instrumental in the development of the Taimu flute along with Ken Lacosse of Mujitsu flutes. How did you and Ken get the idea to try and push the limits of the bore and how do you feel it has affected the shakuhachi world?

Ken made a one octave extremely wide bore flute from scrap bamboo from a hardware store in Japan Town. I told him, "I find otsu on this very appealing. Unfortunate that it goes haywire in kan." He said that was physics. But then John Singer brought a 2.0 from Gudo Ishibashi which was very wide bore but still played well. So we knew it was possible. Ken started experimenting with pushing the limits and coping with the tuning issues inherent in the huge bores. I gave him input on some flutes, particularly the first batch of Taimu. He does all the work, I just tell him what I like and don't like and what needs to be improved on a given flute. I don't know what impact Taimu has had on the shakuhachi world but I've heard from individual players that they've been a revelation to them. I think in the future Ken will be respected and Taimu flutes will be collector's items. They are works of art.

• Do you find you play the Taimu flute now more than a standard bore flute?

I play Taimu flutes every day but I still play a lot of somewhat more conventional dimension flutes. Very few of my flutes are really conventional in the sense of commercial jiari flutes for shinkyoku. I always start out my playing day with Taimu because it's a workout and then go back and forth. Most of my other flutes are vintage Myoan and Kinko from the late 1800's or early 1900's or else they're by Ishibashi Gudo.

• You are renowned for your mastery of the bass guitar and having laid the groundwork for folk punk music with your band the Violent Femmes. Have you ever incorporated the shakuhachi into shows you have done with the Violent Femmes?

Sure, I've played it on several VF recordings and also used it live quite a bit. As a result I've been able to expose large audiences to honkyoku. I blew "Sashi" for 30,000 people at Meriweather Post in Maryland. And there were a few other times when the acoustics were good that I was able to do it for 2 or 3000 people without the aid of a microphone.

• You have another band called the “Shakuhachi Club” which has branches all over the world including NYC, Pisa, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Reykjavik and Tasmania. Did you plan to create the different shakuhachi clubs or did it just happen?

Playing jazz and improvised music on shakuhachi is not a commercial touring proposition, so I pick up musicians wherever I go to to regional gigs. I have a lot of great musicians as friends. I give them the charts, rehearse a few times and off we go.

• Do you try to play different types of music depending on which club you are with?

The themes we explore are fairly simple, being either jazz, blues, honkyoku, minyo or my own originals. Usually I give them the melody and a rough idea of the chords if there are any. The rest is up to the interpretation of the musicians. This means that each lineup of the band sounds very different than the others, even if the material is the same. I like it because I get a thrill from hearing what the other musicians do. I don't have a rigid idea of how the songs must sound.

• In recent years you have moved to Australia. Do you find there is a large shakuhachi community in Australia?

There is a very high level of awareness of shakuhachi in Australia, mostly due to the profile raising work of Riley Lee. He has done so many performances around Australia that most educated music listeners have had an encounter with the shakuhachi. This situation does not exist anywhere else in the West. There are a bunch of other shakuhachi players in Australia but I haven't had much opportunity to interact with them because I'm in Tasmania. However Anne Norman is coming here next week to play at Chado.

• Besides co creating the Taimu with Ken Lacosse you also co created the shakuhachi forum that has grown to become one of the best shakuhachi resources on the net with Ken Lacosse. How much of a challenge has it been to find the time and patience to manage that along with all your other projects?

It's not very time consuming editorially, but Ken has his hands full with the technical side. We created a lot of different categories on the forum so that people could look up the information they are interested in. So the archives are full of a lot of good stuff but you have to wade through other off topic things and misinformation to get to it. Sometimes we have troublemakers on the forum. We just try to keep an eye on it and put out the little brush fires that occur when there are people interacting with one another. We are aware that almost by definition Westerners who gravitate towards shakuhachi or Asian thought might be a bit weird and cause problems, because they have the fervor of the converted. We try to be tolerant but once in a while someone pushes our buttons, usually by abusing the hospitality. That's when we have to remind people it's like coming over to our house for a BBQ. Be nice. But I really like the people on the forum and enjoy hearing their opinions. Once and a while Ken and I worry that we've created a monster but then someone publishes a great post and it makes everything worthwhile. It's really only as good as the participants so anyone who doesn't like what goes on there is free to change the tone by contributing something intelligent.

• Is there any advice you can offer to those who are new to shakuhachi and want to get off on the right track?

The most important thing at first is to find a good teacher and practice what they give you for many hours a day. That's a simple agenda. People get caught up in a lot of theorizing and mysticism, but the important thing is to put in the time and effort to learn the instrument. After you know how to play you can try to develop your own conception or go in different directions of your own choosing.

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