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National Theatre 45th Anniversary Special Performance: Creating New Traditions
Japanese Buddhist ChorusThe Ten Oxherding Pictures and Japanese Court Music In an Autumn Garden

Yoshihiro Kanno
Composer and Professor at Waseda University, Faculty of Science and Engineering, School of Intermedia Art and Science

On September 10 at the large theatre of the National Theatre, a special performance titled Creating New Traditions was held to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the opening of the theatre with a performance the first new work at the theatre for 14 years, the Japanese Buddhist Chorus The Ten Oxherding Pictures, and the famous work of Japanese Court Music, In an Autumn Garden. I, Yoshihiro Kanno, wrote and worked as musical producer for the Japanese Buddhist Chorus The Ten Oxherding Pictures, a work commissioned by the National Theatre. On the other hand, the Japanese Court Music In an Autumn Garden is a famous piece of music written in 1978 by the late Toru Takemitsu. The National Theatre, with its mission of preserving and handing down tradition and Creating New Traditions, that is, to create new works, has functioned like the wheels on a car. And after a blank of 14 years without producing any new works, this year's revival was also a valuable performance. Japanese Buddhist Chorus is ceremonial Buddhist music, and with its so-called sutra-chanting and singing types, is a traditional Japanese voice art in the same league as that of the Gregorian chant.

In an Autumn Garden

A Japanese Buddhist Chorus Performance was held as a commemorative opening performance for the National Theatre 45 years ago. Buddhist Chorus was, for the first time, adopted as music for concert at the stage, and was widely introduced. It was the concert at that time that became the origin of the Japanese Buddhist Chorus as music in Japan. Until then, the term Japanese Buddhist Chorus was not readily used to generalize this Buddhist ceremonial music, and more than anything, this had never been performed as music on the stage. Barring an extremely small number of people, nobody realized that this wonderful music could be compared with Gregorian chant. When taking into account the almost 1500 years since the birth of Buddhism, in only 45 years, the achievements of the National Theatre to ignite this musical value in the 20th century, are huge. In that time, as in the way the common kanji声明that are used to represent 聲明(shomyo = Japanese Buddhist Chorus) are read shomyo, and not seimei (declaration), Japanese Buddhist Chorus is gradually establishing itself.

It was an unexpected pleasure to be requested to write the 45th commemorative work. Gregorian chant became the foundation for Western vocal music, and later, as it separated from religion, Japanese Buddhist Chorus works were thought to be representative of pure traditional Japanese music expression, taking on the wonderful world of voice. And, also in that respect, the Zen Buddhism text, The Ten Oxherding Pictures, was reread as a text of universal self-discovery exceeding the classification of Zen or Buddhism. In the process of writing this piece, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11. Because of that, I had to seriously consider anew people's way of life, and those who lost their lives. And what I came up with was Prayer for the Repose of Souls and Restoration-45 Voices of the Heart-The Ten Oxherding Pictures. I believe that the opening performance, by 45 priests from the three Buddhist sects of Jodo, Shingon and Nichiren, was able to spread the prayer to every corner of the National theatre. In the face of this unprecedented event, I felt painfully aware that music is of almost no use. However, in those circumstances, by sharing the modest prayer for repose of the souls and restoration with the audience, I also believe we could take a small step forward.

The Ten Oxherding Pictures

The Ten Oxherding Pictures

The Ten Oxherding Pictures

Photographs courtesy of the National Theatre

Yoshihiro Kanno
composer and professor at Waseda University, Faculty of Science and Engineering, School of Intermedia Art and Science

University of Fine Arts and Music with the Master's Degree in 1980.In 1979, he won the Prince Pierre of Monaco Musical Composition Award for his "String Quartet". In 1994, his "Les Temps des Miroirs--L'Horizontale du Vent" for ryuteki, sho, and electronic music became the recommended work of International Music Council sponsored by UNESCO.
Kanno's compositions are founded on three genres--the Western orchestral music, the Japanese traditional instruments, and the computer music. Employing the various elements freely and unboundedly, he has composed a number of pieces based on Japanese idioms and traditions.