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The San Koten Honkyoku of the Kinko-Ryū : a study of traditional solo music for the Japanese vertical end-blown flute, the shakuhachi Stanfield, Norman Allen


The "San Koten Honkyoku" are three ("san") traditional ("hon") compositions ("kyoku") which are distinguished and venerated for their archetypical ("koten") characteristics. Of the many "schools" ("ryu") of musicians who claim proprietorship or proprietary control of versions of these melodies, the Kinko-ryu has the strongest claim to historicity. Their medium of performance is the "shakuhachi"—a bamboo, end-blown, vertical flute—and their aesthetics is founded on Zen Buddhism. The progenitor of the shakuhachi most likely originates from the Mesopotamian civilizations of the fourth millennium B.C. After diffusion to China, the vertical flute acquired a seminal role as the aural manifestation of the Chinese fundamental pitch, "huang-chung". Some time later it became a melody instrument in the court orchestras, suffering several recondite changes in nomenclature and popularity. When it arrived in Japan as the Imperial "ch'ih pa" (Jp. shakuhachi) it was in rapid decline, but during the 16th century it re-emerged as an ignoble instrument played by Japanese mendicant Buddhists called "Komo-s5". The period between the decline of the Imperial Court's shakuhachi and the rise of the Komo-so's vertical flute is a void for historians of the instrument, but it is suggested in this thesis that an earlier group of mendicant Buddhist priests/musicians, the "Mo-s5" biwa players, may have been the source of this renaissance. By the time of the Edo Period (1600-1868), the vertical flute had passed from the hands of the Komo-so, through the merchant class who called it the "Hitoyogiri" and a samurai clan who knew it as the "Tenpuku", to a newly-emerged group comprised of "ronin" or masterless samurai who adopted the then-defunct Komo-so's way of life in a manner that suited their aristocratic background. They called themselves "Komu-so", and their colorful history ranges from clandestine malevolence to Buddhist saintliness. In the 18th century, Kurosawa Kinko and his son (Kinko II, 1741-1811) and grandson (Kinko III, 1772-1816) advanced the positive aspects of the Komu-so's activity by assembling a unified repertoire and organizing an association of lay flutists devoted to the pursuit of "Takedd"—the "Way" of the bamboo flute—a process of self-enlightenment fashioned after Zen Buddhist precepts. Today, the music theory of the Kinko-ryu Honkyoku is comprised of a basic system of rudiments tempered by complex performance practices which are only accessible through the oral/aural instruction of a sensei. His pedagogy is designed to bring the student to a unified understanding of the many aspects of melodic detail by emphasizing their role in animating the simple melodies outlined by the skeletal notation. Through a systematic analysis of the Kinko-ryu "San Koten Honkyoku", the present study has found that the theoretical principles of these compositions are clearly demonstrable. Their inherent pitches are derived from the Japanese "In" scale and exist in a hierarchy made manifest in tonal proclivities which are naturally or deceptively resolved. The hierarchies also determine the structures of the melodies by articulating their progress. The conclusion of this thesis draws together the sociology, history, melodic theory and melodic analyses of the Kinko-ryu shakuhachi and its Honkyoku by outlining their respective contributions to a unique musical expression of Zen Buddhism.

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