East is east and west is west, and… they have met in Marc Berner's flute.
Berner is a master Shakulutist, the Shakulute being a western silver flute played with a shakuhachi head-joint. A what? You've all seen and heard the shakuhachi, of course. It's the haunting, breathy, dramatic, Japanese bamboo flute which dates back to ancient Egypt. It’s played vertically and has only five holes as opposed to the modern western flute which originated during the baroque period in the 16th and 17th century and is played horizontally. Why put them together as the Shakulute? Simple: the bamboo head joint gives the western flute a shakuhachi-like timbre, producing a brand new sound.
“ I have been a flutist for more than 50 years and a shakuhachi player for a fraction of that time," said Berner. "In 2005 I read about the Shakulute on (Shakulute inventor) Monty Levenson’s website. I was intrigued and excited and couldn’t wait to play it. Since then I’ve fallen in love with it. This beautiful instrument gives me the organic sound of the shakuhachi with the facility of the western flute. My heart opens when I play it.”
Raised in Port Chester, New York, Berner started out on bugle at age six. Two years later, the piccolo captured his fancy, followed by, over the years: concert flute, alto flute, bass flute, contra-bass flute (yes, there is such a monster), Native-American style flute, shakuhachi and Shakulute.
The Shakulute---played vertically, by the way---is brand-new, developed in 2001 by preeminent shakuhachi maker Monty H. Levenson of Mendocino, Calif. But there are more notes in this score, literally and figuratively: Berner doesn’t just play the Shakulute---he plays the alto Shakulute. In fact, he was the first alto Shakulutist in human history---having learned on the very first one made after Levensen’s prototype. How is the alto different from the “regular” Shakulute? As you would expect, the lower register is rich, deep and mellifluent.
Inventor Levenson explained further: "This hybrid instrument allows the player to employ blowing styles and techniques distinctive to the traditional Japanese shakuhachi while using fingerings common to the classical Boehm (western) flute. It is perfect for the western flutist interested in producing music with a Japanese touch as well as the traditional shakuhachi player who wants to experiment with western scales and intonation"
Berner was featured in concert with shakuhachi grand master Kozan Tanifuji in Hokkaido, Japan in 2006, and in 2010 performed at The Ichimura Miami Japanese Garden in Florida. In 2011 he attended a workshop in Tokyo where he made his own shakuhachi under the guidance of world renowned master/maker John Kaizan Neptune.
Berner says that his greatest honor is having toured and recorded for over 20 years with the late Jazz multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan, who passed away in 2020
One more thing: the man also taught himself to play sax: tenor, bari, soprano, and sopranino. Which leads to the inevitable question: what next, Shakusax?
Marc and Ira