Shinobue (known in the west as fue) is a Japanese transverse flute which emits a high-pitched sound. It is performed in hayashi (festival) and nagauta (ensemble music with koto zither and shamisen banjo ensembles), and plays important roles in noh and kabuki theatre music. It is heard in Shinto religious music such as kagura-den, as well as in traditional Japanese folk songs and more recently with taiko drum ensembles.
Many players in Japan claim that the shinobue is the only indigenous Japanese flute. But I find this hard to believe as the influence of China and Korea as well as distantly from India was so great and they have a variety of side blown flutes eg. bansuri (India), taegum (Korea), dizi, bawu (China) that may have influenced the creation of the shinobue. But the shinobue has a distinctly a Japanese sound that is intensely beatuiful.
There are two styles: uta (song) and hayashi (festival). The uta is properly tuned to the Western scale, and can be played in ensembles or as a solo instrument. The uta style is a result of the impact of western music in Japan; first with military music and then more profoundly of the piano.
The hayashi style is the older style which does not need to play ensemble music therefore the flute is not tuned accurately. It is mainly played to accompany festival/folk music.
Shinobue is made from the upper length of the shino bamboo stalk, which is a thinner spieces of phyllostachs bamboo found all over Japan. The inner bore is usually shaped with a drill then lacquered with urushi and sometimes the surface of the outside of the flute is lacquered as well. Often the two ends are bound and wrapped with rattan to keep the bamboo from splitting. Like the ryuteki (another side-blown flute used in Japanese coure music), the uta flutes have seven finger holes. Hayashi flutes have 6 holes. Other flutes are only made in one length, but since the shinobue must match the pitch of the singer and shamisen an entire set of various pitches is needed. There are 12 to 13 sizes of flute, each a semitone apart.
I first heard the shinobue in a movie by Akira Kurosawa called RAN. The player was Hiroyuki Koinuma and the piece was composed by Toru Takemitsu. It was this sound that pulled me to discover Japanese flutes and consequently led me to the shakuhachi. My first shakuhachi teacher gave me a shinobue to enjoy another timbre of flute, but he was by no means a qualified teacher. Through the years I´ve been playing shinobue on my own developing a strong embouchure and listening to various fine players. After nearly 20 years the door to the shinobue world finally opened to me and I will be taking formal lessons with Hiroyuki Koinuma himself when I go back to Japan in 2010. Also with masters of the Wakayama-ryu style in Tokyo.
Last night Uzume Taiko Ensemble gave our first show in Germany to a packed house. It was a great show with standing ovations, flowers, and and encore. One of the pieces I composed for two shinobue and taiko called “Fue Fubuki” (Fue Storm) . It sounded wonderful. It was the first time hearing it in a live performance so I was very pleased.
Until next time,
Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos