“A Week of Zen Guitar,” by Philip Toshio Sudo, Day 3

IMG_0707There is a recent New York Times’ article about coughers and other distractions during concerts, which I found both amusing and demoralizing. Amusing because the internationally known conductors and performers featured had actually stopped their performances to either chastise the audience, bring attention to it through humor, or actually say something like “my music is a gift to you and you need to be a better audience.”

Well, first of all, no. It wasn’t a gift, the audience had presumably paid for tickets and even though you weren’t paid enough, you were paid, and secondly, concert audiences are aging and holding in coughs is nigh impossible to do.

Having been on both sides of the stage, I think the sound of distractions and movements of late-comers it is far worse for members of the audience than the performers!

There’s no simple solution, but the reason I mentioned the article is because the musicians quoted in the Times’ article were obviously not on the path of Zen Guitar!

Sound and Silence

It doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest guitar player in the world, if you’re not enlightened, forget it.  –George Harrison

“For centuries, wondering monks in Japan have played the shakuhachi, a traditional bamboo flute, for the purposes of meditation…

The measure of artistry with the flute is “ichion jobutsu”–the quality of enlightenment in one note.  To the player, every note and every space between the notes has equal importance to every other.  Nothing-not a single breath through the flute–can go to waste.  In the moment of a shakuhachi master, each moment in this world has its distinct existence and then is gone forever; each sound and each silence is an opportunity for enlightenment.”


Perhaps this quality–to be in the moment and include every sound,, as well as silence, as part of the music you are making is something to cultivate.  To train students in the quality and encourage it in ourselves seems to be the best way to open the communicate among performers, audience and environment.  Then there are no mistakes and no distractions.  Live music at its best, even for us classical musicians!

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2 thoughts on ““A Week of Zen Guitar,” by Philip Toshio Sudo, Day 3

  1. This is very interesting – a zen view often seems to overturn assumed truths. I am very easily distracted and used to be very bothered by the coughers, but have learned to loosen up, particularly since I learned that the musicians are less bothered than the audience, as is your experience too. Clapping between movements can be awkward – sometimes the program isn´t very clear about how the piece is structured. But then I thought: any performer should be happy the audience wants to clap at all, shouldn´t they? And we do try our best. Our local conductor, Petter Sundkvist, gives the audience a big smile over his shoulder if we clap where we shouldn´t. You know, it´s clear that he likes us and our enthusiasm, though he wants to finish first, preferably.

    I found this on Wikipedia under “concert etiquette”: “Late eighteenth-century composers such as Mozart expected that people would talk, particularly at dinner, and took delight in audiences clapping at once in response to a nice musical effect. Orchestras often stood while playing, and individual movements were encored in response to audience applause.”

  2. I think that the classical concert experience really has become stifled. And this is coming from a classical musician who used to perform extensively regionally! Don’t you find that doing something with your hands, or expressing delight or poignancy or shifting in your seat, or getting up and walking around actually enhances your connection/concentration with what’s going on?

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