Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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(iii) Modern traditions.

The tradition of purely concert (ozashiki) shamisen music began with performances of narratives outside the theatre, in which context onna jōruri (female performers) appeared. In the 19th century new nagauta compositions were created that had no theatrical connections, and the cult of the composer became stronger. By the mid-20th century the amateur study of shamisen music became ‘respectable’, this change having healthy cultural and technical results. 18th- and 19th-century notations, which used syllables or symbols to represent finger positions, were replaced by new notations based on the French Chevé system, with Arabic numbers and Western rhythm and bar systems. Student recitals, concert pieces, specialist journals and recordings by star performers flourished. Since the mid-20th century it has been possible to buy recordings or notations of the basic repertory of the major genres and to attend concerts of all forms or hear contemporary compositions for ensembles of traditional instruments. The traditional guild system of working for a professional name (natori) remains strong, though Western-style lessons exist as well. For example, one may graduate in shamisen at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.

There have been sporadic attempts at introducing a bass version, but otherwise the shamisen, like the shakuhachi, survived the 20th century essentially unchanged. Each type of shamisen seems to have become ideally suited to its particular niche, and no new niches have emerged as yet to demand further developments.

Japan, §II: Instruments and instrumental genres

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