The ancient city of Kyoto annually celebrates three fire-related festivals. On New Year's Eve a majestic bell rings at Yasaka Shrine as a young woman in a kimono carries home embers from the sacred fire, kindled in bamboo ropes. This is called "Okera-bi". If you prepare zoni soup over a fire created by those embers, you can have a peaceful New Year. It is also believed to ward off diseases for the coming year.
On August 16th, Daimonji no Okuribi, we send off ancestral spirits with giant bonfires lit on the mountain. That signifies the moment when spirits of deceased family members, who are said to visit this world during Obon, are believed to be returning to the spirit world-thus the name Okuribi (roughly, "send-off fire").
On October 22, the night of the Kurama Fire Festival, a long line of men proceed up Kurama-kaido street bearing massive flaming torches, shouting "Sireale, siryo". Along with the intense sound of the drums, as if to put an end to fall, the flames of more than a hundred torches burn the heavens at the festival's climax.
In order to express the reverence for life, prayer, passion, and human nature, from the sentiment of the fire festivals and shrine traditions, these themes are reflected in the symphonic poem Ritual Fire. I tried to see how human life returns to nature, and the passion of inheriting precious lives from our ancestors. It consists of a large-scale melodic line set in bold ethnic rhythms.
As the mountain range of Higashiyama's 36th peaks are revealed, wrapped in clouds rising from the valley, the song begins. A majestic resonance builds with Japanese traditional melody and harmony written in 4ths and 5ths, forming the basis of work. The oboe solo (optional flugelhorn, muted trumpet, or euphonium an octave lower) suggests wind blowing through a cedar grove. Hear plaintive prayers by horn and bassoon. Buddhist priests echo across the mountains offering prayers to nature's majesty.
The second half of the work, led by timpani 16th notes with accented backbeats, is an energetic vision of the fire festival with a blended ethnic tone-row and modern-rhythm sense. Finally, the theme of prayer and return to nature is sung in unison. Along with the spirits of our ancestors, Daimonji no Okuribi, giant bonfires quietly disappear and the piece comes to an end.
For the wind, represented by maracas, suspended cymbal imitating Ashirai strokes ("Matsumushi" or "Sho" used in Geza* of Kabuki is also effective) adds greater emotion.
*Geza, which means accompaniment, is played in the Kuromisu room behind a black bamboo curtain hung on the Shimote [audience-left] side of the stage.