Archive for October, 2011
Crafting the Native American Flute
“Hey, I’m thinking of offering a DVD to the people who purchase my “Grandfather” flutes. Can you help me?”
Wolf knows that I can’t say no to him, so I dutifully went over to Sedona one morning to make some images of him in his workshop.
I am surprised by the amount of work that goes in to the making of one of these. The flutes are measured, cut, halfed, bored, fit with a ‘block,’ glued, shaped, carved, drilled, sanded and finished.
As most every Native American flute player has learned and appreciated, the results of the flute-making process transcend the physical appearance and feel of the flute. Known by many names in the lore, including the ‘love flute’ and the ‘courting flute’ etc., the Native American flute is somehow able to communicate the players’ feelings in the moment — the spectrum of human feelings. In addition, they can bring the sounds reminiscent of nature to life. It is not uncommon to hear a skilled player mimic bird and animal calls.
An Old Trick
For decades, I have been trying to control what would cause my sisters to call me “Bad Billy.” I don’t think that I have made much progress yet, although sometimes — just sometimes I feel that I may have. But it may only be just a feeling.
Wolf wanted to show one of the final steps in the flute-making process: blowing off the saw dust after sanding and just prior to applying the clear coat. He thought it would be neat to blow the dust toward the camera. (Obviously Wolf is not accustomed to purchasing Canon “L-Series” lenses). As he lined-up the flute with the lens and prepared to blow a dust cloud into the equipment, I turned the tables on him; I surreptitiously grabbed his compressed air hose and let him have it.
As my late father used to instruct me: “The old jokes are the best … that’s why they are old!”
A Flute Journey Begins
“…. We are going on a journey into your deep subconscious … to help us get there, we are going to use a map. It’s your map! But, remember: ‘the map is not the territory!’ It is a representation that we will use as a guide. After all, a map of the moon is not the moon itself!”
Continuing for another 30 minutes, medical anthropologist, Dr. Alberto Villodo guided the meditation using the concept of different rooms in a mysterious world that could unlock the unknown parts of our lives. Toward the end of the guided meditation he said, “The last room is the ‘Room of Gifts.’ Look around. Notice if there is anything there for you. There may be a gift for you to help you integrate what you have learned on this journey into your every day life. Don’t try. Just wait. Whatever is there or not is O.K. ”
That, which for me at the time was an unusual way to spend 30 minutes seems like a lifetime ago. Maybe two lifetimes! I remember looking around in my mind’s eye and saw a lone flute on the ground. I picked it up and brought it back with me, not knowing that my life would be changed in ways I could not have foreseen.
A year later, Dr. Villoldo was introducing Don Francisco, an elder of the Q’ero Nation of Peru (the descendents of the Inca) to the audience. Translating from the ancient Quechua language, Dr. Villoldo told us that Don Francisco had flown on the ‘Iron Bird’ to be with the brothers and sisters to the north – to bring the rites of passage, including the 9th rite: the Creator Rites, which had heretofore never been give by a man to another. These were the rites only given by the mountains of the High Andes to the Q’ero of Peru.
The ceremony is brief. It includes Quechuan blessings, invocations and well-wishes, and concludes with a ritual transfer of the rites from Don Francisco’s breath and medicine bundle.
As participants, we were warned (after a fashion) that things might change in our lives and that it was best to be prepared for anything. For me, this began a period of years of recording with the Native American-style flute that continues to this day. I like to tell myself that these recordings are part of my own life’s healing or part of an aural diary, as it were. But it seems much more than that. The flute has taken me on a path far-removed from the chemical engineering career that I survived onto a new path filled with people – a path of faces and feelings – a path of witnessing people’s lives at different points to-and-from their zenith. These days, instead of picking up the phone to see what the boundary conditions are at a unit in a refinery, I am more likely to speak to a healer, patient, musician or craftsman.
The Flute Makers
The first craftsman I met on this journey was Stephen DeRuby. I was looking for flute lessons and called a man named Golaná. He put me in touch with Stephen. “I use Stephen’s flutes almost exclusively,” he said. “My students use them because of the fact that they are of great quality and are perfectly tuned. Give him a call.”
Stephen and I met in Northern California in 2006. I probably came away from that meeting with several flutes. I saw him over a period of three days or so, and each time he would bring something special out of an unmarked box – a one-off flute in an experimental wood or some other one-of-a kind flute. It was hard to pick a favorite, but if I had to from that trip I would say that it was the EZ-Shakuhachi flute with a C diatonic scale. He called it “the Deep Blue ‘C’.” Anyway, it began my love affair with the special fipple that made a magical, breathy sound similar to rim-blown Japanese shakuhachis.
Over the next several years, established Native American-style flute players seemed to be searching for something to distinguish themselves in the marketplace. There was an explosion of rim-blown, exotic-scaled entries into the market. The established players are talented with well-developed embouchures (mouth muscles used for playing a wind instrument), and could easily master the rim-blown instruments. A new-comer like me, on the other hand would be at least a year away from even making a sound on these. But the tones that can be achieved are well worth the effort.
Stephen DeRuby changed all of that. His unique fipple design put the sounds of rim-blown flutes within my grasp, although I hesitated a couple of years before taking the plunge. It was actually my friend, adopted brother and fellow flautist, Wolfs Robe put me over-the-top. He showed up one day with one of Stephen’s EZ-Anasazi flutes. When he played it, I couldn’t believe the sound; I had to have one.
When it arrived in its fleece case, I knew that I was in for a treat. I postponed a trip to LA to take the time to see how it would record. I have attached a couple of tracks that will explain why I postponed the trip. My first recording was called “Face the Fire,” which is the track at the beginning of this piece.
As I got more familiar with the lovely instrument, I became more adventuresome by adding some close harmonies and trills. The result was more that I could have hoped for and can be heard below:“Talking Stick,” © 2011 by Bill Leyden. All rights reserved.
Now Stephen has introduced the Kiva flute. I can’t wait to take another plunge!