TENDAI SHOMYO RESEARCH SOCIETY
Buddhists believe that the universe began not with a bang but with a whisper: the quietly intoned syllable “om,” said to be the first sound of creation. In Japan, “om” is where the heart is. It provides the foundation for meditation, prayer, and celebration, all of which come together in bugaku ho-e, a ceremony that incorporates dance, music, and the Buddhist ritual chanting known as shomyo. Shomyo took shape in ninth-century Japan, and reportedly is performed much as it was then by the Tendai Shomyo Research Society, a group of 15 priests from Japan’s Tendai sect. Neither has bugaku ho-e changed much–at least not in the hands of the dozen musicians and one dancer who make up Tokyo’s Tsukiji Honganji Gagaku-kai; they’ll join the chanting priests to re-create the ancient spectacle here in the New World. I can’t say much about how this music sounds because, like most other Westerners, I’ve never heard it: the ceremony is rarely performed outside of Japan. (In fact, the group’s U.S. “tour” includes only five other engagements–all of them on the east coast–which makes this an extremely noteworthy presentation.) But at 1,100 years of age, shomyo is among the oldest continually performed musical traditions in the world. So I figure they must have something to say. To help us understand what that is, musicologist Steven Nelson will offer a preperformance lecture starting one hour before the concert (which is a fund-raiser for the restoration fund of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Unity Temple). Thursday, May 22, 8 PM, Unity Temple, 875 Lake, Oak Park; 708-383-8873. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Uncredited photo.