I picked my brother up to go to dinner this holiday season last. As he got into the car, he heard the track that I was evaluating – a track from upcoming album, “Waiting for … .”
Now, my brother does not have a musical ear that he developed – but he does know what he likes, so I have no qualms about him giving me input. But this time, he went above and beyond his usual
“What the hell was that?”
“Was that a Native American flute? It’s too loud!”
“Is that a guitar? How did you make that guitar sound?”
I responded, “Ahhhh — with a … guitar?”
“Well, it’s just that you can make a guitar sound with anything these-days,” he continued to build his argument.
I couldn’t help saying, “And I’m a professional photographer because I have an iPhone!”
“You know what I mean,” he finished.
“Not yet!” I finished.
I include the audio reference below so you might decide:
I met Annie (RIP) before I photographed her big sister’s wedding in 2004. She must have about 22 at the time. I still carry a piece of the lavender tulle ribbon used in that wedding ceremony in my photography case to remind me of the joy of the occasion.
All three sisters were gregarious and charming. The wedding — being attended by more than two Australians at a time was therefore both a raukous and cheerful affair. My recollection of Annie is that she was the kind of person that was instantly beloved by everyone she met.
So it came like an unwelcome wash of sadness when I noticed that her brother-in-law posted her funeral notice on Facebook in February. I looked through my old film archives to find this prank shot that I made at Betty’s wedding. Annie is on the right. From right to left she is with her sister Betty, fellow bridesmaid Kathy, her sister Cindy, brother-in-law Andrew and groomsmen Manual, Derek and James.
A track on a yet-to-be-released album, “Shifting Promises – Altered Dreams” is dedicated to her memory.
An orchestral drone and plaintive flute anticipate an unavoidable sadness. The orchestra then underscores a contemplation of loss and leads the listener to a lighter, up-beat passage which fades to a residue of longing, love and melancholy:
I have just released a new ambient music album, “Crystal Theory.”
I used flutes by the following friends and master craftsmen:
Here is the track list:
Also available at:
I think you’ll enjoy it.
Dusting-off the Nylon String Fender Telecaster (Telecoustic Thinline)
If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I would have never imagined the venerable country music, twanging Fender Telecaster would come in an accoustic version, let alone with nylon strings. I can’t say where or when I acquired this instrument; but I fell in love with the “Telecoustic Thinline” over a decade ago. But, I have not used it much.
As with most telecasters, it will sound exactly the way you play … there is no place to hide when you are playing a telecaster. So, usually when I play this baby, I end up putting it down while simultaneously saying to myself:
“Oh, man! Do I suck!”
But after a short time, I resolve not to let my level of ‘suckiness’ distract me, and I record anyway.
Here is the Telecoustic during a sound-check:
Now, to the further honor my younger brother, who misses no opportunity to make fun of my penchant for composing New-Age music, I have given the working title of “Crystal Theory” to my latest project. Despite my brother’s feelings, I can make no appologies for the music that I compose — it’s all up to the crystals!
So, to continue my journey, I guess I don’t need or expect his approval — but maybe just some specialized equipment.
So, if somebody would just hand me that tin-foil sombrero, I’ll get back to the studio.
Flute Improvisations during the Arizona Monsoon and Ghost Month
Last year, I learned that the the 7th Lunar Month (roughly the August-September time frame) was observed in certain parts of Asia as Ghost Month (盂蘭). Apparently, the portals of the Underworld are opened – allowing the spirits to run free (if not amok). There are certain taboos that apply to this month — I’ll let the reader refer to Wikipedia for a list as well as more background on the event.
Anyway, some of the many customs that are observed at this time include paying respect to the deceased by reciting prayers and making burnt offerings to their memories. It is also customary to limit one’s travel — especially during the night hours.
Last year my friends and I (to our coincidental peril), evidently did not show sufficient respect and we all suffered unusual travel discomfiture(s).
Letting It Happen
But, I have also found that for me, the 7th Lunar Month is a great time to be fully immersed in musical endeavors. There is little effort involved, as the urge to improvise and compose is overpowering.
For the second year in a row, I thought I would take a short hiatus from recording. But It was not to be. For no particular reason, I would awaken suddenly to the ubiquitous sound of birds. I would then take a the field recorder outside to capture the ambient sounds of jays, owls, quail, sparrows, towhees, roosters and sapsuckers. A couple of those sessions were done during an aggressive thunder storm (the Arizona monsoon season has lasted longer than usual this year).
I would typically improvise a flute solo on the same day of the ambient recording, and before I knew it, there was more-than-enough material for an album. The calendar of recording dates confirmed my suspicions: between August 6th and September 5th this year was indeed Ghost Month.
I didn’t fight it – I let it happen. And so emerged the album by the same name. Please, enjoy a listen:
I am beginning to look forward to the 7th Lunar Month. (And who could blame me?)
The album, “Let It Happen” by Bill Leyden is dedicated to the memory of master flute-maker, Leonard “Lone Crow” McGann (RIP), who succumbed to cancer in August, 2013. Track 14, “Goodby, Lone Crow” is played with one of his flutes – a Low A Native American flute made from sassafras wood.
Like many first-time aficionados of the Native American and Native American-style flute (sometimes called the love flute or medicine flute), I purchased my first one a decade ago at a tourist gift store in Sedona, AZ. It was fine, but as most wine connoisseurs and cigar aficionados will tell you, there is more to the experience than the predictable palatability of Trader Joe’s ‘Two-Buck Chuck’ or a Macanudo machine-made cigar. So also true for Native American-style flutes — there are many good ones that are machine-made. But I was soon to find out there was something about a hand-made instrument that can break through the boundaries of predictable tone into a musical territory of unknown chances and serendipitous discoveries.
Remembering Master Craftsman, Leonard “Lone Crow” McGann
My first major financial (and emotional) commitment to this flute foray was the investment in a Native American flute that was made by the late Leonard “Lone Crow” McGann. He was at a flute convention, and his flutes seemed to beckon me to his booth.
I am not (at first) a talkative person, and I avoid vendors as a rule, but I approached him anyway. There was a flute that had caught my eye that was larger than the rest, with a carved turtle on it — and it was expensive!
“This is a Low-A, minor pentatonic flute made out of sassafras,” Leonard said proudly. “I carved the turtle myself, I don’t do it often; it takes a lot of work.”
“Is that price the best you can do?” I asked.
He picked it up and started to play. It sounded different that the other flutes that I had seen and heard – not only the flute’s tone but the musical scale that he was playing. (I have learned since that he was using a cross-fingering technique that allowed him to use an A-minor flute to play in the key of D-major). The flute called to me!
“It’s a good price – though I’m not sure that I really want to sell it – unless it really speaks to you. This flute only seems to want to play that song. I played it at a friend’s funeral.” And he started to play the sweet refrain again.
I left the booth and walked around the convention a little to think it over – and decided to go back to “Lone Crow’s” booth to do the deal. I have never regretted it.
I learned earlier this year that Leonard was very ill and that the prognosis was not encouraging. Somehow the news made me feel weak at the shoulders.
Yesterday, in my mind’s eye and ear, I saw and heard the flute again. I picked it up and started to record – thinking about the man that made the flute who had just succumbed to cancer — at once I was grateful and heartsick to be on the journey that is daily directed and ushered by the Native American flute.
Here is what the accompanied flute seemed to want to play:
I put track, “Goodbye, Lone Crow” on the New Age Album, “Let It Happen:”
Actually, it may be 41 albums — I’m sure that have lost count. But it has been at least 40 albums in-the-making since Peruvian shaman, Don Francisco hit me on the head with his hefty medicine bundle while transferring to me the 9th Incan Rite-of-Passage (the Creator Rites).
“Hey, Man … take these two flutes. I want you to have them. Pay me — don’t pay me — it’s up to you!”
I accepted the flutes and embarked on a magnificent flute and recording journey that continues to this day.
Notes To Myself on Following the Muse
Becoming a recording artist in the middle of life has been mysterious. But even more surprising is the range of the comments that I receive on the music that I publish. (I don’t take a lot of credit for the music – most of the time, I cannot technically play what I hear in my mind’s ear).
I think that I am beginning to understand what pianist Helen Jane Long meant when she responded to a question during a radio interview about what her compositions meant. I paraphrase:
” …. I’ll let the listeners decide what the song’s meaning is. What I was thinking at the time that I wrote it might unduly influence the listener’s experience.”
So, too (in the receiving direction), the comments and interpretations that I receive seem to depend on the mood and circumstance of the listener. My Mother, for example, may have completely different (and sometimes opposite) feedback on the same song at different times.
So, over the years (for my own amusement and improvement — and with a light heart), I have attempted to categorize the type and source of feedback that I typically get after each album. I have also tried to recognize any patterns. But so far they have eluded me. Here is a sample categorization:
|Mother||“Too Frenetic, but I am your No. 1 fan!”|
|Son||“I’ll be sure to not operate any heavy machinery or drive while listening to your albums. By the way, why [when I listen] do I suddenly feel the urge to be in the nude and to wear healing crystals?”|
|Brother||“Are you ever going to get a real job, or are you just going to keep playing that ‘beaver medicine’?”|
|Sister 1||“When I try to listen to one of your albums in the [health food] store, somebody buys it. I’ve tried three times today! Will you send me a personal copy?”|
|Sister 2||“Oh, you mean you have albums out? I didn’t know that!”|
||“Whatever …. “|
|New Age Fan||“When are you going to do an album with just plain flute?”|
|Old Age Fan||“Just take the flute out of it — and it will be perfect”|
|Fellow Musicians||“Very … interesting.”|
|Law Enforcement||“Step over here, Genius”|
|My Dog||“Fantastic!. The best that I’ve ever heard! No … really!”|
The Next Album
Is it any surprise, therefore that the next project has the working title, “Let It Happen”?
‘May you walk in Beauty.’
–(a Navajo prayer)