Glass gives new sheen to traditional Japanese music

Updated: 2010-01-21 16:33
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TOKYO - Ancient Japanese musical instruments have taken on a new shine after one group decided to make theirs out of glass, instead of traditional wood.

Drums and flutes play a major part in traditional Japanese music, with the "tsuzumi," an hour-glass shaped drum, often in the lead role.

Usually made out of leather and a hard wood such as cherry tree, the tsuzumi is famed for its high pitched beats and is the only Japanese drum that is played using bare hands.

Unveiling a five instrument glass ensemble in Tokyo, the Hari Gonin Bayashi group, established to promote the use of glass in traditional Japanese instruments, played several tunes.

Kaho Tosya, the leader drummer, told Reuters that while she's not completely happy with her glass instrument, it still produces amazing sounds.

"If you ask me whether this has the same timbre as the original drum," Tosya told Reuters Television. "I would say that it has still not reached a complete passing grade. I suppose because this is the first one made of glass. But, on the other hand, this can reproduce a very sharp high pitch."

The wooden frame version of the tsuzumi is said to harden over time, sometimes even centuries, to create the drum's signature beat, she added.

The instruments were made by Tokyo-based Hario, a glass maker known in Japan for its popular glass coffee pot products. It took 13 of the firm's artisans over 19 months and ten million yen ($109,000) to create the five instruments.

The glass instruments are the brain child of shakuhachi flute player Gazan Watanabe, 48, who says glass is the perfect material for Japanese music.

"One of the characteristics of the Japanese instruments is the hardness of the material they are made of. The same hardness and smoothness are the fundamental characteristics of these glass instruments," Watanabe said.

Watanabe hopes glass instruments will also be easier to mass produce than the wood ones, allowing for the greater use of traditional drums and flutes in modern music arrangements.