We chat to Anne Norman, a performer of the rare shakuhachi flute
14.09.2020

We chat to Anne Norman, a performer of the rare shakuhachi flute

Before she appears for The Boite’s Song Appetit series.

Anne Norman is a performer of the shakuhachi – a unique Japanese flute made of bamboo – who has solidified a strong reputation at home and abroad. Collaboration is the essence of Norman’s work – across her career, she’s teamed up with everyone from beatbox artists to free-jazz ensembles and beyond to perform and create compositions that push the boundaries of standard music exploration.

Norman’s music takes her all across Australia and the world however COVID-19 has forced her to stay put and her forthcoming gig for The Boite’s Song Appetit series on Wednesday September 16 will be her first performance since mid-March. In a matter of days, Norman had 60 gigs cancelled almost instantly.

In the lead-up to her Song Appetit gig, we caught up with the shakuhachi performer to see how she’s faring, and to get the inside word on what to expect from Wednesday’s show.

Beat: For those who aren’t across your work, tell us a bit about Anne Norman?

Anne Norman: I am a shakuhachi performer, improviser and composer normally touring the country and overseas, but now stuck in lockdown in Mornington.

Beat: The shakuhachi is a unique Japanese flute made of bamboo. How did you come in touch with this instrument and what inspired you to take it up?

Norman: I first encountered the shakuhachi when teaching English in Japan following a six-month adventure through South East Asia in the mid-’80s. Having studied classical silver flute at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, it seemed the logical instrument to take up in order to make friends and learn about the local history, culture, language and music traditions of Japan.

Beat: Artists and creatives are now faced with an incredibly unique situation and have lost most if not all of their work. How have you been travelling with it all?

Norman: This online gig with The Boite is my first show since mid-March when over 60 of my gigs were cancelled. It’s been surreal. Being a muso who’s always on the move but is now trapped in a room by myself reading books, only escaping for short walks… it’s been hard. I’ve really missed my performance colleagues and friends. I had a flight booked to Japan in July, as I’d planned to move back there for a while to compose and collaborate with some of my Japanese colleagues. I was really looking forward to that.

Beat: Have you been able to keep yourself busy during the downturn? If so, what have you been up to?

Norman: At first, I was busy cleaning up scores of past compositions and working with a talented colleague in Portugal to re-score one of my shakuhachi works for flute to submit to a competition in Italy. Then I composed a nine-part work for choir with field recordings of brolgas funded by a City of Melbourne Quick Response grant, for which I am super grateful.

I’ve had major problems in receiving the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments, so the City of Melbourne grant, and a couple of other small payments from arts bodies helped me in the beginning of this lockdown. Then all my subsequent grant applications were rejected and I entered into a couple of months of crippling anxiety – something I had never experienced before. My music-making totally stopped.

The one thing that has kept going musically is teaching a couple of shakuhachi students online, which has been an absolute highlight of each week. I haven’t taught much over the years, as I’ve been touring a lot. But now I love it.

Beat: It’s an interesting period for artistic imagination. How has the pandemic affected your creativity when playing or writing music?

Norman: Well, my current creative outlet is doodling, and I am loving it. Music making is something I do with or for other people. With it cut off, I have lost my compositional motivation. I know it will return, so in the meantime, I am exploring this new avenue of expression using coloured pencils, and learning a great deal about myself in the process. In the last few weeks, my anxiety has begun to subside, and I think the doodling and this upcoming gig for The Boite have been part of the healing process.

Beat: What’s in store for your upcoming show for The Boite’s Song Appetit series?

Norman: Doodles! Video clips of doodles set to music. Archival videos and a bit of live music – a little piece I’ve never performed in public before. I am taking this as a chance to give audiences a peek into my other art forms, not just music. There will be clips set to my performances of many styles of music, from Hildegard to beatbox to Purcell to Miyagi to snippets of Zen meditations and my own compositions where I sing and play shakuhachi at the same time.

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Can you BELIEVE we're at September already?! We can't. But the best thing about another month passing? Another Song Appetit is on the horizon. COVID has been an upheaval, for sure. But when ELSE are you going to be able to eat delicious food (recipe written for you) in your PJs while having world-class musicians play for you direct to your living-room? Never again that's when. Which is a terrific segue to introduce Anne Norman. Anne Norman is a shakuhachi performer, improviser and composer, working in a diverse range of music creation. Classically trained in European Art Music and in Japanese shakuhachi Zen and chamber music, Anne is also enjoys spontaneous improvisation with musicians of various genres, dancers, actors, poets, visual artists, installation artists and tea masters. Song Appetit with Anne Norman Wednesday 16th September, 7:00pm Tickets $15: boite.com.au

A post shared by The Boite (@the_boite) on

Beat: Tell us a bit more about how you got involved with The Boite.

Norman: I have been putting together gigs for The Boite every year since the mid 1990s. Every gig has been in collaboration with a different lineup of musos, dancers, visual artists and tea masters. It’s been a lot of fun. Therese Virtue has been my point of contact with The Boite during that time, and she has always given me total freedom to do what I want.

Artists and audiences all appreciate the relaxed way which The Boite hosts their Song Appetit gigs with supper and mulled wine – a real sense of homely friendship and community. I am very, very grateful to be a part of it. I’m just hoping the mulled wine arrives warm in time for the interactive discussion at the end of my gig! Is there an online mulled wine delivery service?

Anne Norman will appear live as part of The Boite’s Song Appetit series on Wednesday September 16. Grab tickets to the event here. Find out more about The Boite’s ‘Adapt, Not Cancel’ series here.

Get to know Anne Norman more via her website.

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