An interview with Michael Chikuzen Gould

How long have you been playing shakuhachi?

28 years.

How did you discover the shakuhachi?

I was living in Kyoto and saw a poster announcing a shakuhahci concert. I wasn't sure what it was but I had some time that day before work, and it was close by and starting soon so I went to check it out. I thought the guy on the poster was a samurai.

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

The sound(s.

Who were your main influences and what style initially appealed to you most?

Someone introduced me to John Neptune's teacher, seeing that John had just left Kyoto and was fairly well known there since he did non traditional stuff that got a lot of attention. The person introducing me figured since I was a gaijin that I would fit in well at a dojo that was used to foreigners. While at the dojo I rummaged through stacks of LPs and listened with the headphones on for hours when others were having lessons. I didn't know who anyone was but I fell in love with Yokoyama Katsuya's stuff. A few months later, I was on vacation stateside and in a bookstore in Columbus, Ohio I found two old LPs of Watazumido. I didn't know anything about him either but listened to those scratchy records over and over till I went back to Japan a month later.

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

Taniguchi Yoshinobu for his energy and spiritual approach, Yokoyama Katsuya for his musicianship and Watazumido for his relationship with nature.

When did you move to Japan and were you playing shakuhachi when you moved there?

I moved to Japan in 1980 and began studying in 1982.

Did you have experience any bias in being accepted into the shakuhachi culture in Japan?

I think I felt the "inside/outside" stuff DR. Riley Lee speaks of but not because I was a gaijin. I went to study with Yokoyama Sensei AFTER Taniguchi Sensei stopped playing for a while and I was perceived to be and made to be felt like an "outsider" and a "guest" for quite a while. Yokoyama Sensei knew about me as I had been to his father's house several times through Taniguchi Sensei's introduction. I had played with his father and also his mother way before I met him myself. So by the time I met him he had learned to think of me as Taniguchi Sensei's deshi. Some of that feeling never totally disappeared.

How long did you live in Japan?

18 long years.

What did you do to earn a living while in Japan and studying shakuhachi?

I first was employed in the overseas division of Yazaki Soogyo where I helped them with their foreign correspondence. After that I worked for a hugh publishing company in Osaka. After I married a Japanese national I began helping medical doctors with translations and speech writing.

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

My early conceptions were defintiely influenced through my teachers playing and also through many other aspects of Japanese culture. However, since leaving Japan they have been based largely on my experience of playing itself. One builds off of one's playing experiences and must continue to redefine and build from a self referential experience all the time.

When playing flutes do you have a preference for jiari or jinashi flutes?

I have Jinashi, jiari and a "little dab'l doya" jimori flutes. I don't like flutes with a lot of ji in them. Just enough to get the pitch and balance I guess.

What schools of music have you studied and play?

Mainly Yokoyama and Taniguchi style honkyoku. I have studied some Meian and some Tozan but don't consider myself steeped in their traditions at all. I play some of their songs but with my own style.

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

I love honkyoku the most, especially "nature based" honkyokyu. Those are songs derived from nature energy and not chanting. I like some of those too but not as much. I like more modern songs for koto and shakuhachi than I do traditional ensemble pieces, although there are some of that work for me too.

I developed a relationship with nature and music in my early years of life. I lived the first five years of my life on a farm with my grandparents and mother. I tagged around with my grandfather all day, "helping" him do the work of raising animals and growing food. Every sunday, after a hard week of work, he would pull out his guitar and a small amp and play and sing. He was from Texas and would play Texas blues and country music. He also played a blues harmonica. It was such a wonderful thing to be sitting at his feet and experiencing his music. He wasn't polished as he was self taught but it was 100% pure soul going into it. He had worked on oil rigs, and had been a conductor on the Union Pacific Railroad too. He depended on nobody and it seemed everyone depended on him in some manner. He built everything he needed and raised all the food we ate at home. That spirit of self dependance was strong in his music. Everyone in my family played music, sang or danced and most did a bit of all. My mother played piano and directed choir and my brother played blues guitar too, very well. My other brother was into musicals, which I hated. I'd run out of the house when he stared singing. Anyway, in my family I was the quiet one in the corner who didn't join in. I really liked to sit and absorb it, just listen and feel it though. In college I was introduced to Buddhism and began meditation. I initially went to Japan to learn more about Buddhism but then bumped into shakuhachi. Once I heard the shakuhachi, all of the things I loved in life came together at once. The breath, being able to be so directly involved with sound production, the focus on breath, nature, the quiet spaces, etc.

What school or schools have issued you a Shihan license and which teacher or teachers perspectively?

My licenses came from Taniguchi sensei.

How do you feel your teaching style is different than traditional teachers in Japan and how do you feel it benefits students over other more traditional teaching methods?

I teach a lot on skype so the methods have to be different from Japan, where you do more imitation in a non-verbal setting. I feel that a teacher should help students make “progress” with a combination of sharing insights they have but then also not simply spoon feeding everything. If enough insights are provided, the student will catch on little by little and become aware of the many perspectives that one can view this activity of “doing shakuhachi” from.

How long have you been teaching shakuhachi?

Full time for 14 years now and part time for 3 or 4 years before that.

Is there a more important question or questions you feel I missed in this interview that you would like to share?

There are so many perspectives with shakuhachi that I’m sure we could come up with several more chapters. Thanks for your time and effort in allowing me to be on your blog.

Thanks for your time in answering these questions and for sharing your valuable knowledge!

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