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The International Shakuhachi Society

Itoh Teiji

January 22, 1935 - 1982

Shakuhachi & Composer

Teiji Itoh was born in Tokyo, Jan. 22, 1935. His father Yuji Ito came to U.S. in 1917 as a professional opera singer, and later became a designer of costumes, masks and headdresses for stage and film. He designed the original Tin Man's suit for MGM film The Wizard of Oz, and was head singer for the Metropolitan Opera Co., and Radio City Music Hall (Rockettes). Teiji's mother, Teiko Ono (Itoh) was a professional dancer who performed European and Asian classical dances in many parts of the world with the assistance of her husband, who designed and executed her costumes, masks, headresses, and also composed and arranged her music accompaniment.

Teiji Itoh was six years old when he was brought to America by his parents. That year, 1941, he made his public debut as a drummer accompanying Korean and Japanese dances performed by his mother at the Museum of Natural History. While still very young, he studied clarinet and guitar. During his teens, he turned to various musical forms, both Eastern and Western, including jazz, flamenco, Russian and other ethnic musics. He continued, however, to specialize in percussion, adding African, and West Indian rhythms to his knowledge of Oriental forms.

In 1952, while standing in front of a five-and-ten store, Teiji met avant-garde film-maker Maya Deren, who asked him on the spot to compose a score for her just-completed film, The Very Eye of Night, an invitation which resulted in Teiji's first film score. For 10 years they remained close companions and colleagues (they were eventually married shortly before her death in 1961). Since Maya was deeply involved in documenting Haitian rituals at the time they met, Teiji accompanied her to Haiti in 1955, where he learned ceremonial and secular drum beats and songs from Coyote, a highly-skilled Haitian musician. This experience with Haitian culture was to be a major influence in his life and musical career.

At the beginning of his professional career, Teiji was the only musician available to play his vast array of exotic instruments, so he made layer-on-layer tapes of himself playing dozens of instruments. He often used varying speeds to create effects, treating the tape recorder itself as a instrument. He applied principles of Japanese music and African percussion to contemporary and classical pieces. His scores are distinguished by his ingenious way of inter-mixing a wide range of ethnic and traditional (Western) instruments in a non-traditional way, for dramatic effect.

Teiji composed and performed scores primarily for film, theatre and dance. Besides scoring Maya Deren's films The Very Eye of Night and Meshes of the Afternoon, Teiji collaborated with The Living Theatre (Bertolt Brecht's In the Jungle of the Cities), Jerome Robbins (Watermill for the New York Ballet) and, for many years, Jean Erdman (The Coach With the Six Insides).

In his 1971 book Vibrations, David Amram wrote: "Teiji Itoh is one of the most accomplished composers in the U.S.A. today. His music for the theatre, his abilities as a multi-instrumentist, and his extraordinary knowledge of rhythms, folklore and styles of world music make him a unique and respected figure in many countries where he has performed his music. Today is an era when 'world music' is finally becoming an accepted concept in this country and his contribution is more significant than ever."

Teiji Itoh died in 1982, during a visit to Haiti, the country he loved so much.


Le Koto de Yusen Kuzuhara et le Shakuhachi de Teiji Itoh Le Koto de Yusen Kuzuhara et le Shakuhachi de Teiji Itoh

Tracks Recorded

Kumoi JishiLe Koto de Yusen Kuzuhara et le Shakuhachi de Teiji Itoh
Miyako no HaruLe Koto de Yusen Kuzuhara et le Shakuhachi de Teiji Itoh
Shika no Tône (Kinko Ryû)Le Koto de Yusen Kuzuhara et le Shakuhachi de Teiji Itoh
ShochikubaiLe Koto de Yusen Kuzuhara et le Shakuhachi de Teiji Itoh

The International Shakuhachi Society - 2018