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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