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OK When I created "the Universal Flute" I hoped it would prompt the members to write appreciations of people who have spread shakuhachi around the world. So I wouldn't have to write stuff! But since people are slack, I'll write one now.
I'm singling out Riley Lee for recognition. He is the most prominent non-Japanese player. His music is heard all over the world. For example my brother-in-law in Sri Lanka listens to him on his way to work.
When I moved to Australia my life as a shakuhachi person became easier because instead of "what's that?" (the American response), many people say, "Oh, that's a shakuhachi!" This is usually followed by tales of enjoying Riley's CD's or having seen Riley in concert or heard him on the radio. Riley has almost singlehandedly created awareness for shakuhachi around Australia. I enjoy informing these people that Riley is American.
He is a prolific recording artist with dozens of albums to his credit, a performer of note on the international stage, and ambassador for the shakuhachi. World Shakuhachi Festival 2008 which he organized was one of the most ambitious shakuhachi events in history.
Musical life is a lot more than learning an instrument. That's the easy part. Riley's playing is excellent but I'm placing him in "the Universal Flute" for his playing AND the fact that he delivers the goods on all those other public levels.
At the end of last millennium (read "late 90's" ) I was looking for good music instrument for meditation. I already tried recorder, dizi, bansuri, crystal flute (Hall), but it was not what I was looking for. Besides, the internet was at the very beginning. I tried to find xiao, but there was no information about xiao I could find.
One day I heard the recording of Riley Lee from the CD "The Masters of Calm"
http://www.komuso.com/albums/Masters_of … ume_1.html
I got really moved by that piece. I found all I could find about shakuhachi on the internet. It was not much at that time, but enough for me to know that everything about this flute was different from what I used to learn. So it took me several years to overcome my fears and try to learn playing. Once I realized I couldn't go far without a teacher, I wrote an email to Riley. He pointed in a right direction, and this was how I met Bruce and Mary Lu in San Diego.
Even today, when I have over 2500 pieces of music on my iPod, "The Masters of Calm" is among 4 or 5 most played albums in my office. I am really happy that Riley comes to California, and that I have a chance to take personal lessons from him!!
I don't think I've ever enjoyed watching a teacher teach as I have sitting-in on Riley's one-to-one lessons at workshops. His attention to the student's output and needs is remarkable in it's critical accuracy, speed, generosity and good humor. What balance! He makes it look easy.
Commenting on my flustered and nervous affect in one such lesson where I was on the hot seat, Riley reframed the situation like a master therapist or a wise monk: "Instead of thinking 'Gads, I'm so nervous,' think of it more like 'Wow, I'm really, really excited," think of it as extra energy!"
What a lesson.