Tokudo – The Gate of Enlightenment

I wrote and premiered this Viola Solo work for the Hanamatsuri (Great Festival) that took place April 1983 at the Japanese Zen Buddhist Temple of Long Beach, California.

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My husband Steve was going through his Tokudo ceremony. This is the first step in the path towards Zen priesthood, and therefore it is called the “Gate of Enlightenment”.  I had visited the Zen temple several times, and observed the performance of the “Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra” chant.  The large bowl that they used for a gong had been brought from Nagasaki, and it was one of the few artifacts to survive “the bomb”.  I imagined that this bowl glowed in the dark after hours.  The Roshi (head priest) tried to compliment me by saying that I looked very beautiful in my kimono, but I told him that I am only a mirror.

In Tokudo the viola represents the initiate who is going through a series of questions and answers.  The initiates all wear robes and are silent during the Tokudo ceremony, so this is an inner dialogue.  Often the goal of Zen is to quiet this inner dialogue.  The viola is imitating various Japanese instruments and folk songs in this music such as the shakuhachi flute, Japanese violin, and the koto.  It is meant to be stylistic rather than literal.  I had performed in an Asian orchestra in Los Angeles just previous to this ceremony even though my husband and I are non-Asians.  Even so, we have both been drawn to Asian art and culture.  I studied Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and Toaism.  Even though Steve never finished his priesthood, he did go on to achieve a second Don in the Japanese martial art known as Aikido.

I was studying composition at California State University, Long Beach with Dr. Sindelar when I wrote Tokudo – The Gate of Enlightenment.  He passed away at a young age shortly after I graduated with my Masters in Fine Arts.  This work was originally a dialogue for flute and viola, however, the viola won out in the end, becoming both participants.  I am in debt to the composer and conductor of the Asian Orchestra of Los Angeles who first introduced me to this poly-stylistic way of composition.  The composer for the series “Kung Fu” of the 1970’s was also an inspiration.