Naperville Man Masters The Shakuhachi

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The meditative tune you are hearing is coming from a Japanese flute, called a Shakuhachi. It’s being played inside of longtime Naperville resident Michael Firman’s studio, where he practices and teaches how to play the instrument.

The History of The Shakuhachi

The Shakuhachi actually came to Japan from China in the 8th century. With four holes in the front and one in the back, the entire flute is made from bamboo.

“I got interested in it because I heard it on a record many, many years ago. It captivated me, the sounds captivated me. And I followed up with trying to find one and the eventually found one and found a teacher,” said Firman.

His passion for the flute grew from there. He eventually traveled to japan to learn more about the culture of the flute’s unofficial home.

“One of the things that seems to be prevalent across the board in Japanese art forms anyways is the attention to detail,” said Firman. “They’re incredibly detailed oriented people. So I think it thought me to pay attention more than anything else.”

How To Master The Shakuhachi

That attention to detail is needed to play the instrument because unlike traditional flutes the Shakuhachi doesn’t have a fipple, which means you have to create the sound with head movements and lip placement.

“You have a lot of flexibility and it gives its own quality and it’s very expressive in that way,” said Firman.

What is a Tengai?

He reads the sheet music up and down, and if a note is bigger the tone is lower and vice versa. Another distinct characteristic is the headgear people sometimes wear while playing, which allows listeners to focus more on the music and not the musician.

“This is called a Tengai and it was worn by Mendicant Monks in the Edo period,” said Friman about the headgear. “And they roamed around the land playing the Shakuhachi wearing an outfit that included the Tengai and they wore it for amenity.”

Firman is able to see through the front slits, but it’s difficult seeing him. He’s mastered the art of playing the flute, becoming a certified Shakuhachi teacher, and he’s even joined an ensemble.

“There’s a collected world of music out there and I think the big take away should is that there’s all sorts of things to absorb. Shakuhachi being one of them,” said Firman.

Naperville News 17’s Christian Canizal reports.

You can learn more about Firman by visiting his facebook page. Watch some of our other News Feature videos.