Utilizing Japanese Concepts of 間(Ma) in Japanese Percussion Repertoire



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This study aims to fill a gap in percussion literature by analyzing the history and usage of the Japanese concept 間(ma). Ma is a difficult concept to put into words, especially if one did not grow up in Japanese culture: no exact English translations exist. Essentially, it is a concept of silence and intervals in the traditional Japanese art forms and music, but the actual usage depends on context, given its rich and complex history. The purpose of my dissertation, however, will be ma’s application in music. For this setting, ma has spiritual and philosophical meanings as well as utility in performance practice. The type of music central to my study is Japanese percussion repertoire. Although this genre is popular within American percussion performance and pedagogy, one does not likely know what ma is nor how to incorporate it: scarce information is available for it. Coupled with the idea of ma as critical in the Japanese composers’ intent, this creates a problem for Western educators and performers and requires a true understanding of the concept. This study seeks to clarify the overall meaning of ma and present examples in the work of contemporary Japanese composers, including Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) and Keiko Abe (b.1937)—the latter with whom I conducted an in-person interview. Ultimately, I hope to construct a better understanding of ma and its application within the context of Japanese percussion repertoire.