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Riley Lee

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Riley Lee began playing the shakuhachi (bamboo flute) in Japan in 1971, studying with Chikuho Sakai until 1980, and has been a student of Katsuya Yokoyama since 1984. He was given the rank of Dai Shihan (grand master) in 1980.

Riley was born in Plainview Texas USA in 1951, and moved to Shawnee Oklahoma USA in 1957, where, aged 13, he became the bass player of the award winning rock band “The Workouts”. He and his family moved to Hawai’i in 1966. He first went to Japan in 1970, and returned in 1971, when he began his shakuhachi studies. He lived there continuously until 1977.

From 1973, Riley toured internationally as a full-time performer of taiko (Japanese festival drums), yokobue (a high pitched bamboo transverse flute) and shakuhachi with Ondekoza (now called Kodo) a troupe of traditional Japanese musicians, performing with such groups as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and at venues such as Kennedy Center (Washington DC), Roundhouse Theatre (London), Espace Pierre Cardin (Paris), and the Boston Symphony Hall.


Riley completed his BA and MA degrees in music at the University of Hawai’i, and received his PhD degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Sydney. His PhD dissertation topic was on the Zen repertoire of the shakuhachi. He was an East-West Center grantee in 1985-1986 and a Japan Foundation fellow in 1988-1989. He was made Honourary Fellow of the University of Western Sydney in 1997.

He has published scholarly articles and book reviews in leading national and international musicology journals, such as Ethnomusicology and Asian Music. He has translated for journals such as Contemporary Music Review.

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