Learning by Ear
I believe I was three years old when I first heard the Noh chorus, “Yokyoku”. My father was holding a practice at our home, and I overheard his teacher singing the chorus from the next room. Although I don’t remember it vividly, I think being able to experience this when I was young played a part in choruses coming naturally to me.
I was certified as a master during my 38th year as a disciple under my current master, which allowed me to start teaching the beauty of Noh and Yokyoku to others. For elementary children, I teach them Shimai (a part of Noh danced in plain clothes and hakama without a mask or costume) and how to use some musical instruments, such as Kozutsumi (small hand drum). One thing that always surprises me is how quickly children can learn music just by listening to it. Same goes for students from other countries who attend the workshop. They are capable of mimicing sounds they hear with their voices.
When we the Japanese practice Noh, we are actually told that the secret to improving your singing skills is to listen to the music carefully, rather than reciting written lyrics. For instance, children of Noh performers who start learning from a young age obviously can’t read the ancient Japanese lyrics, so they learn them by listening to their master sing the chorus over and over again. Memorization through speech is another established learning method, so maybe you could consider your “ears” and “throat” the main muscles you work on when you practice Yokyoku.
People today exhaust their eyes and brain at an age where there is too much information everywhere. I think that is why I feel refreshed after a good Noh practice; it allows my head some time to rest.