I know you’re busy ‘n all, so I’m glad you could make it out for coffee again this week.
You know I took a listen to my senior recital this morning. It’s been five round years since I had performed those sets of Dowland, Bach, Rodrigo, Albeniz, and Domeniconi. So many things have transpired since then. As I mentioned before, the passing of time in Tokyo just hasn’t really settled into the river bed of my comprehension, nor have the past three years constituted by so many passing, shape shifting cloud events. While the nebulous weather patterns are hard to section off, when put into the context of the last five years, five years exactly now, since I graduated university – it’s easier to make what out of which. One year of classical guitar training before university. Four years of classical guitar study at university. Two and a half years after university working various jobs while making music, followed by two and a half years of living abroad – largely identified by the subsequent inconsistency in ritual, habit, practice, disciplined repertoire up-keep.
Choosing to move abroad, twice, over the past three years put a generous dampener on my classical guitar playing. Even as I was just beginning to heal and recover from my tendonitis like injuries around my wrists at the end of University, I could already see that a full recovery just wasn’t in the cards. I still managed to complete my senior recital with dignity, but I would need an insane amount of free time and financial ‘support’ to make a full recovery over years – and then maybe, just maybe compete on the market as a classical guitar teacher. Not too bright a future there.
That and I still wanted to get back out of the country, either back to Spain or finally to Japan. Living through both of those hopes showed me just how lucky it was to be able to practice at home at an appropriate volume. Both in Spain and Japan, the walls are thinless smacks of paste which serve two purposes: be opaque barriers; perfectly transfer acoustics from one area to another. Out in the farm field spotted Waukesha County, one can practice an instrument at just about any time of day unless it’s being amplified by the distorted needs of adolescent experimentation; experiments which I still wholly approve of.
Anyhow, I’ve had the good conscience not to bother my neighbors – if possible – while living in Spain and Japan but curtailed my guitar playing considerably. That’s not to say it’s disappeared entirely, though. About this time last year I was very deep into Bach suites BVW 995 and BVW 1006a. BVW 995, upon first impression would be recognizable by cello version, BWV 1011 while BVW 1006a is a lute/keyboard adaptation of the earlier violin Partita III, BVW 1006. Every day during the warm sun of Tokyo’s winter days, I’d practice BWV 995 and BWV 1006a in my little guest house room. My room at that time was adjacent to the entrance of the guest house and, as the aforementioned thinless smacks of paste that separate rooms here transfer vibrations exquisitely, anyone passing by would be entreated to my repetitive cracks and hacks at difficult passages.
One of our roommates happened to be a professional electric guitarist; the man can compose, the man can produce, the man can absolutely shred the fuck out of the electric guitar. It was quite the juxtaposition: classical guitar in one room by day, electric acrobatics from another room by night. At times we’d go out for a bite to eat and talk shop. I feel quite lucky to have met him at that time; having a real musician to talk to was (and is) a rarity. On one of these occasions he mentioned that his girlfriend would often stop to listen to my practicing as she would come in or out of the house. Not everyone is annoyed by classical guitar rehearsal, it seems. I try to keep that in mind these days as, after the studying is all over, I can pick the guitar back up. As of this fall it’s been ten years since I officially started playing classical guitar, I realized.
Ten years. Granted, due to various self imposed trials, tribulations, and ignorantly self-inflicted performance injuries, not all of that time have I regularly played classical guitar. In that sense it only measures about seven years. However, since I started taking care of the nails on my right hand, it’s finally been about ten years. What a wild ride it’s been. As an anniversary present, I’m taking the lady in for some spa treatment; a thorough cleaning, new tuning pegs, and perhaps a nice polishing.
My concert guitar isn’t the only thing I’m splurging on. In fact, learning from last year’s – and the year before that’s – mistakes, I’m fully preparing myself for a comfortable and lovely winter. What does that entail? A comfier and warmer futon set: check. A new fuzzy blanket which can be worn while traversing this 1K kingdom: check. A blanket for the electric kotatsu gifted to me by a friend who’s moving out of Japan: check.
It’s 6 A.M., as it always is. Shinjuku’s government computer component nicely silhouettes amidst the orange sherbert filling that dews up the moist sunrise air.
It’s 3 degrees Celsius outside, the nights have reached further in, from the bones to the soul. I forked over all my cash for the new household comforts mentioned above, before the cash could go bad. At this age, money still rots if left in the bank too long. No one likes sticky, smelly money. It’s hard to grasp its value at that point – especially considering that this rotting mass of cash is essentially what you’re trading in your precious time and life energy for. “Please stress me out, tire me, use me, and then give me money which I’ll either let rot or waste on addictive materialism which temporarily helps me cope with the stress and exhaustion,” is the name of the game. Don’t get played by the game.
So, before coming to have coffee with you I explored the comfy confines of my newly winter-ready 1K. Wrapped in a fuzzy blanket while making a cup of 6 A.M. Japanese Shizuoka raised sencha to match the juicy burn in the orange south eastern horizon, I caught my reflection by the toe. It spit, and the aftermath looked by God nothing less than a robe wrapped monk. Adding to this ragged image, was the fresh haircut gracing my thinning, balding cranium. Yesterday I finally got what I believe to be the first haircut in Japan that didn’t leave me in a pit of despair. Granted, I don’t have much to work with anymore, but I at least trust my barbers not to perform ritual slash and burns troubling my already troubled terrain. Yet, no I see that there’s hope: hope for a future in Japan where a barber can be found who can effectively handle the situation. Did you know that the famous horror story, “The Shining” was originally titled “The Thinning”, but the stress and lifestyle habits incurred by completing the work left them without – and the resulting horror was so blinding that they thought “The Shining” would be a more suitable title. True story. The contents stayed the same, of course, inspired by the original act of thinning.
So freshly stubbled and blanketed, I poured a few cups of sencha while the images of reality slowly developed in the dark room to my waking eyes.
Ah, back to the whole practicing spiel. You see, my shakuhachi teacher suggested that I practice in a karaoke booth. If poorly producing difficult pitches at high volume was a concern, then best to pay up a handsome fee to blast away in a virtually sound proof karaoke booth. It turned out to be a positive experience, albeit a slightly expensive one. Paying 8 dollars for an hour of practice time in a hyper-stimulating karaoke booth is more money than I’d like to pay but hell – this is Tokyo – everything is top dollar. By the “freshly cleaned vomit traumatized carpet” smell, I could tell that this was a solid Karaoke spot: trustworthy, customer tested and approved. Wabi sabi, was it? It seems that, until I’m absolutely nailing these rather difficult pitches, 980 yen for an hour is just what I’ll have to settle with for a while. The hilarity is that these small party karaoke booths are wonderfully insulated and dampen the sound admirably – which must be the reason why this, in Japan, this company’s name is, Big Echo.
During this windy morning, all the gingko trees are just about losing it. Japan’s cherry blossoms get preferential treatment here for sure, but fall leaves whirling about the streets or flooding the park with scores of bright tones on a sunny day compete well with last season’s thoroughly cold and wet cherry blossom viewing. You can see the gingko leaves shedding layers of yellow along Ome Kaido, which is lined on both sides by them for stretches and stretches.
Now, in light of this shedding, thinning, and sudden grip on time – it’s not only five years since my senior recital – but also five years since I cut off the dreadlocks made so lovingly by my friends during freshman year of university. That puts a bit more perspective on time, doesn’t it? There have been several (as our music history teacher so said) red letter dates during my twenties, by which time has become jointed, hinged. Here’s to hoping it keeps on swinging.
How bout another cup? This here is some damn fine coffee.