Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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(ii) Performing practice.

Kabuki music is played by onstage (debayashi) or offstage (geza) groups. Both use percussion and flutes and perform different genres of shamisen music, the most commonly used being gidayū, nagauta, kiyomoto and tokiwazu (see §II, 6(ii) above). Players of each genre belong to different guilds and maintain separate rooms backstage. In plays derived from the puppet theatre (bunraku), the gidayū singer and shamisen player, known collectively as the chobo, kneel on a dais stage-left or behind a bamboo-curtained alcove above the stage-left entrance. In pieces of pure dance using nagauta or in works derived from plays, the onstage ensemble traditionally consists of a row of singers and shamisen (up to eight of each) on a red dais at the back of the stage, with the drums and flute of the (known collectively as the hayashi) on the floor in front of them (fig.34). Up to four kotsuzumi (hourglass drums held at the shoulder) and two taiko (drums played with a stick) may be used, although only one ōtsuzumi (side-held hourglass drum) and one flute are usual. The flautist uses both the flute (fue or nōkan) and a bamboo flute of folk origin (takebue or shinobue). If more than one type of shamisen music is used on stage, the arrangement of the musicians is determined by the layout of the set. In such mixed performances (kakeai) the genre of the performers can be identified not only by their style but also by the colour and shape of the singers’ music stands.

The offstage or geza ensemble is normally positioned in a room at the stage-right corner, from which its members can see, through a bamboo curtain (kuromisu), the stage or the hanamichi (entrance ramp) that runs from the back of the auditorium to the stage. The geza ensemble may use the instruments and singers from the nagauta ensemble mentioned above, as well as many other percussion combinations. The ōdaiko, a large barrel drum with two tacked heads, and a temple bell (kane) are frequently used, as are instruments of folk or festival origin such as the hand gong (atarigane), the okedō and the festival taiko stick drums. Horse bells (orugōru), cymbals (chappa) and a xylophone (mokkin) may also add appropriate dramatic effect to traditional kabuki.

More modern variants of kabuki include the genre called Super Kabuki, created by the actor Ichikawa Ennosuke in 1986. This uses a fast-paced staging and adds to the traditional musical elements a wide range of other instruments (koto, shakuhachi, biwa and even some Western instruments) playing new compostitions.

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