Monday, January 23, 2006

Seeing Ikebana in a New Light

Duo En had the wonderful privilege of playing at the Seattle Ikebana International luncheon the other day. We were impressed, first of all, that people from various Ikebana schools, each with its own history and approach to arranging flowers, would gather together and share; that their love of Japanese flower arrangement binds them rather than divides them. Consul General Tanaka mentioned in his opening remarks that they are all ambassadors for peace, by creating friendships across borders. By making bridges artists truly are builders of peace, and it was striking to have that so thoughtfully recognized by someone of such important stature.

At the urging of our friend Karen Nagata, before we played I shared my disastrous story of encountering Ikebana during our stay in Japan…how I was either leaving too many branches and leaves on the arrangements, making them “gomi gomi” (messy) and then trying to make up for it by trimming them too much, making them “obo-zu san ni natta mitai” (ending up looking like a shaved monk head.) Somehow I never got the hang of it, and my attempts at flower arrangement classes conveniently stopped after about a year of not seeming to make much progress, when we moved from Hokkaido to Honshu.

And yet Ikebana artists are concerned with many of the same concepts we are thinking of as Japanese musicians. The concept of “ma” (space, or gap) is very important in Japanese music, and of course is pivotal in Ikebana. Making the most of single notes, and noticing the “neiro (color) of each note is another concept that is shared, as the flower arrangers are concerned with making each stem, branch, and blossom meaningful. The asymmetric aspect of Japanese music can also be seen in Ikebana arrangements as well. After many years of practice, ultimately creating one’s individual style within the guidelines of one’s years of practice is wonderful to behold.

The lunch included a flower arrangement done by someone representing each different school and their “story” for how they created it. Fascinating! As I listened to each arranger explain how they approached their creation, I felt an affinity for what they are doing. All of our hands and minds, each with their own experiences, limitations, training, and inspirations, working to create pieces of art.

At the end of the luncheon, the arrangements were taken apart and our instruments were put away. The ephemeral aspect of what we create, as musicians whose music rings for just moments in the air, and flowers that bloom so briefly and are arranged for moments in a vase, filled me with wonder. We had all been nourished by each other’s art. And tomorrow, we will continue to strive to create again, our flowers and music as fleeting as cherry blossoms.

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