The Five Rings of Miyamoto Musashi

for flute solo (or alto flute solo)

duration:  10 minutes

premiered by Jennifer Beavers on May 5th, 2000 in Jessen Auditorium, Austin, Texas

in Five Movements:

I) Earth Scroll
II) Fire Scroll
III) Water Scroll
IV) Wind Scroll
V) Scroll of Emptiness

The Five Rings of Miyamoto Musashi takes it’s inspiration from several different literary, historical, and musical sources. The main inspiration for the piece comes from a book entitled The Book of Five Rings by, you guessed it, Miyamoto Musashi. The book is divided into five chapters – I) The Earth Scroll – II) The Water Scroll – III) The Fire Scroll – IV) The Wind Scroll – and V) The Scroll of Emptiness. In the five chapters Miyamoto imparts his life experiences as a wandering Samurai warrior in 17th century fuedal Japan. Musashi was also a devout Buddhist, and the book is laced with Zen philosophy as well. I tried to take the spirit of the four elements of the first four chapters and translate that into the music. For the last movement, I focused on the Zen concept of duality, as did Musashi in the last chapter of his book.

The second source of inspiration for this piece was the shakuhachi flute. After some study of this incredible instrument, I realized that it would inspire the music in my piece musically and also would carry some historical ties as well. Much of the music in the first and last movements was inspired by Sokaku – Reibo, a Japanese folk theme often improvised upon by shakuhachi players. The instrument itself was linked to the samurai during Miyamoto’s lifetime. The shakuhachi was imported from China, and was originally much smaller. During the 17th centrury, the shakuhachi became the sole “property” of the samurai. They would often learn to play the instrument to become spies for different shoguns, masquerading as a musician at another shogun’s court. The samurai also enlarged the shakuhachi and made it more solid, so it could double as a weapon if needed. Most of the extended techniques used in the piece are approximations of sounds heard on the shakuhachi.