Archive for August, 2013

Sassafras and Heartache

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.

Low A, sassafras Native American flute by Leonard “Lone Crow” McGann


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.

The Late Leonard “Lone Crow” McGann (RIP)

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:”


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Man’s Best Friend?

Seeking inspiration from the sacred wood block of the Yucatan.

Strong Medicine

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).

Shortly after that, master flutemaker, John Stillwell appeared in front of me out of nowhere in the Mojave Desert and something like this:

“Hey, Man … take these two flutes. I want you to have them. Pay me — don’t pay me — it’s up to you!”

Don Francisco

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:

Source Comment
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!”
Closest Friend
“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!”


Really … the best that I’ve ever heard!”

The Next Album

“Let It Happen”

Is it any surprise, therefore that the next project has the working title, “Let It Happen”?

‘May you walk in Beauty.’

–(a Navajo prayer)


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New Album by Bill Leyden Available for Listening and Download

“Beneath the Mask” Album Art

“Beneath the Mask”

A New Album of New Age/World Music (Música Mundial)

I am thrilled to release a new album for download on on August 1, 2013.  This is a collection of lush and plaintive musical textures punctuated by guitars and the Native American-style flute:

Beneath the Mask – Bill Leyden

Remember, on you can listen without purchase.  Should you be moved to purchase, however, you can pretty-much name your price!

About the Flutes

On this album, I used flutes made by the following master craftsman:

Stephen DeRuby (Tracks 9, Los Huérfanos (The 19); and 10, The Mystery of Los Feliz),

Geoffrey Ellis (Track 4, Bay Theater),

J. P. Gomez (Tracks 2, Abracitos; 3, Rezo de los Niños; 6, En Silla; and 7, Victoria Herida; 8, Shaman’s Farewell),

Rich Halliburton (Track 11, Querencia), and

Leonard McGann (Track 1, Beneath the Mask).

Track List:

1. Beneath the Mask,
2. Abracitos [Embraces],
3. Rezo de los Niños [A Child’s Prayer],
4. Bay Theater,
5. Sunset on the River,
6. En Silla [In the Saddle],
7. Victoria Herida [Wounded Victory],
8. Shamans’s Farewell,
9. Los Huérfanos (The 19) [The Orphans],
10. The Mystery of Los Feliz [Los Feliz is a location near Griffith Park in Los Angeles, CA where some have reported to have had unusual nocturnal sightings and experiences],
11. Querencia [A place where one feels at home], and
12. Ribbons and Lavender.

I hope you enjoy it!

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