Hichiriki – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Musical Instruments Glossary

What is a Hichiriki?

The hichiriki is a traditional Japanese double reed instrument that is commonly used in gagaku, which is the ancient court music of Japan. It is similar in appearance to the oboe, with a cylindrical body made of bamboo or lacquered wood, and a double reed mouthpiece. The hichiriki has a high-pitched, piercing sound that is essential to the overall sound of gagaku music.

History of the Hichiriki

The hichiriki has a long history in Japan, dating back to the 7th century when gagaku music was introduced to the Japanese imperial court from China and Korea. The instrument has been an integral part of gagaku ensembles ever since, playing a crucial role in both religious ceremonies and court music performances.

Over the centuries, the hichiriki has undergone various changes in design and construction, but its basic form and function have remained largely unchanged. Today, the hichiriki continues to be a symbol of Japan’s rich cultural heritage and is still used in traditional gagaku performances.

Design and Construction of the Hichiriki

The hichiriki is typically made of bamboo or lacquered wood, with a cylindrical body that is approximately 20-30 cm in length. The instrument has seven finger holes on the front and one thumb hole on the back, which are used to produce different pitches and tones. The double reed mouthpiece is made of cane and is attached to the top of the instrument.

The hichiriki is a non-transposing instrument, meaning that the pitches produced by the instrument match the written notes on the musical score. This makes it easier for musicians to read and play the music accurately.

The hichiriki is also known for its distinctive sound, which is characterized by its high pitch and piercing tone. The instrument is capable of producing a wide range of dynamics, from soft and delicate to loud and powerful, making it a versatile instrument in traditional Japanese music.

Playing Techniques of the Hichiriki

Playing the hichiriki requires a high level of skill and precision, as the instrument is capable of producing a wide range of pitches and tones. The musician must use their embouchure to control the airflow into the instrument and produce the desired sound.

The hichiriki is played using a technique called “circular breathing,” which involves inhaling through the nose while simultaneously exhaling through the mouth. This allows the musician to play long phrases without pausing for breath, creating a seamless and continuous sound.

In addition to circular breathing, the hichiriki player must also use their fingers to cover and uncover the finger holes in order to produce different pitches and tones. This requires dexterity and coordination, as the musician must move quickly and accurately to play the correct notes.

Overall, playing the hichiriki is a challenging and rewarding experience that requires years of practice and dedication to master.

Use of the Hichiriki in Traditional Japanese Music

The hichiriki plays a central role in traditional Japanese music, particularly in gagaku ensembles. Gagaku is a form of court music that has been performed in Japan for over a thousand years and is considered a national treasure.

In gagaku performances, the hichiriki is often used to lead the ensemble and set the tempo for the other musicians. Its high-pitched sound cuts through the texture of the music and adds a sense of drama and intensity to the performance.

The hichiriki is also used in religious ceremonies and festivals throughout Japan, where its piercing sound is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. In these contexts, the hichiriki is often played in combination with other traditional instruments such as the sho (mouth organ) and the ryuteki (transverse flute) to create a rich and vibrant musical tapestry.

Overall, the hichiriki is a versatile and important instrument in traditional Japanese music, with a long history and a unique sound that continues to captivate audiences around the world.