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15 October 2007

Shakuhachi Chamber Music Composition Competition 2008

Shakuhachi Chamber Music Composition Competition 2008

The idea for the Shakuhachi Chamber Music Composition Competition, the first of its type in the world, was born out of a desire to see composition for shakuhachi flourish. By raising awareness of the shakuhachi’s potential in contemporary music, we hope to encourage the development of new directions for shakuhachi, and to raise the level of shakuhachi performance. A specific aim of the competition is to promote the combination of the shakuhachi with western instruments and ensemble.

The sound of the shakuhachi touches the heartstrings of many people, almost always invoking an emotional response from the listener. Perhaps it is the importance of breath in the performance of shakuhachi; maybe it is the yearning nature of the traditional music and scales. This amazingly versatile instrument has a dazzling array of textures and special techniques, which, when performed correctly, can create real excitement in audiences.

The sound of the shakuhachi is regularly heard over the Australian airwaves. The generous support by bodies such as the Australia Council for the Arts, APRA, State and local government bodies and universities is a major reason for the development of shakuhachi in Australia.

Shakuhachi in Australia has been mainly presented as world or meditation music, the association of shakuhachi with Zen Buddhism being highlighted. These Zen aspects of the shakuhachi are often promoted in contemporary compositions. Certainly, compared to the western flute, the shakuhachi is happier with fewer notes, but this minimalist approach is compensated by care in the shaping or ‘polishing’ of notes. There is often, however, a preoccupation with minimalism and the textural properties of the shakuhachi – the term breathy can occur too frequently in scores.

The Shakuhachi Chamber Music Composition Competition 2008 has called for works that include the shakuhachi with any combination of violin, viola, cello and guitar. This instrumentation continues from a long tradition of writing for shakuhachi and strings. For more than 100 years in Japan, the shakuhachi has been used in ensemble with the plucked strings of koto and shamisen.

The competition will be held every two years and, each time, a different combination of instruments will be chosen.

Writing for shakuhachi does require knowledge of the instrument, particularly its various lengths and technical limitations. The Shakuhachi Chamber Music International website has a resources section (www.shakuhachichambermusic.net/pages/resources.html) which shows the ranges of shakuhachi and their favourable scales. This section also has descriptions of special techniques and articulations for the shakuhachi, with accompanying audio files.

All works submitted for this and future competitions will be placed in the Register of Compositions to enable access by those interested in new works for shakuhachi with western instruments. Links will be made to the composers and also to a source for scores and audio, where available. The register will accept other works for shakuhachi that are not associated with this competition.

The organisers of the competition are pleased to announce that the three winners will be offered a publishing agreement with Australian publisher Reed Music (www.reedmusic.com).

Important Dates

Further Links

Andrew MacGregor is Australia’s first Shakuhachi Master and lives in Lilydale on the outskirts of Melbourne. He has been teaching and performing shakuhachi since 1993 and was a finalist in the 2003 All-Japan National Music (Hõgaku) Competition.


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