Watching Noh

(Kanze Tetsunojo’s noh stage, across the street from Cartier, Prada, and D&G in Omotesando.)

Yesterday, I attended the first day of a workshop with Kanze Tetsunojo, a noh performer and the head of a very influential family of noh actors within the Kanze school.  One very simple question of his provoked a fascinating series of thoughts.  That question was,

Is noh chant hard to understand?

He said having listened to it in his home since birth, he found it perfectly natural, but the old age of the texts and the musical intonation would probably make it difficult for the uninitiated.

I wrote down what I thought at that moment, so here is what I wrote in my notebook (slightly edited):

Even if the words of noh chant are difficult to decipher, the music also provides clues to the emotional atmosphere of the scene.  Perhaps, not being able to understand the language and musical phrasing removes preconceived concepts, therefore creating a non-linguistic space.  What I mean with a non-linguistic space is a space without conceptual categories, without differentiation.  Without differentiation, a feeling of oneness, connectedness, and an extension of the self remains.  This experience of oneness can be deeply spiritual.  However, trying to understand, developing concepts for the experience, conceals the spiritual quality of the experience.  The feeling of oneness is broken up into various conceptual categories.  That is probably the reason why researchers of noh are consistently dissatisfied with the performances they see.  :-)

2 thoughts on “Watching Noh

  1. I know very little about Noh. I do feel that often words, and our belief that we understand them, obscure the meaning of what is happening. When we don’t understand the language we can get to the essence of the event.

    1. Dear Gene,

      Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that there is something very basic that may be communicated without words. However, I just read an article about translation this morning that touched on essentialist nationalism, and I’m beginning to understand why I dislike the word essence in that context. If, for example, Noh is considered essentially Japanese, it seems inaccessible to foreigners.

      Certainly, there are differences between different cultures, but we are all essentially human. The article I read this morning gave a wonderful word for this concept: “differential nationalism,” and I think that we may all be different, but we can overcome these differences if we so desire. . .

      Sorry to barrage you with my ideas. Thank you for initiating a wonderful string of thought!


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