Chamber Music

Shawn Head Shines On Shakuhachi

Composer and performer Shawn Head talks about the Japanese shakuhachi and some of the music for the instrument.

Even if the name isn’t familiar, you might know the sound of the shakuhachi. It’s a traditional Japanese flute with a distinct, airy sound quality. Shawn Head is a local shakuhachi performer who became fond of the instrument after growing up around Japanese culture in Milwaukee and eventually making a trip to Asia for some extended study while also attending the Cleveland Institute of Music.

“I went over to China and Japan and did some extra studies and bought some instruments… one of the instruments I bought ended up being a shakuhachi… that one I just gravitated towards… then from there I couldn’t put it down. It was every single day for hours,” says Head about first encountering the instrument.

The shakuhachi has a diverse role in various forms of music, from traditional folk songs to monastic pieces, and even contemporary classical works and jazz. This Friday, Head will present a free concert at the Campbell Learning Center, his first educational program in the area. He’ll be performing music with accompanying stories and also talk about Japanese culture and how the instrument fits into that world. Hear my conversation with Shawn above where we talk about the stories behind some well-known shakuhachi pieces and how he uses the instrument in a contemporary context in his own works.

For more information about the upcoming performance, go to the Campbell Learning Center website.

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