Posts Tagged Native American Flute Music
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.
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)
“Beneath the Mask”
A New Album of New Age/World Music (Música Mundial)
I am thrilled to release a new album for download on Bandcamp.com on August 1, 2013. This is a collection of lush and plaintive musical textures punctuated by guitars and the Native American-style flute:
Remember, on Bandcamp.com 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:
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!
My Friend, Shayde Christian
Suddenly, after a day of shooting his film, “Painting in the Rain,” he apparently decided to come over to view the images and was peeking around my front door:
“Hey, man…is that your music playing?” Shayde asked.
“Hey, I really like what’s going on there. Does that mean that you have access to all of the tracks?” he continued.
Not yet knowing where he was going with the line of questioning, I fell into his logic:
“Sure, I do! It’s multi-track software.”
“Hey, if you’d take the flute tracks out of it, it would be perfect!”
It has long since become a running joke between us, but at the time I felt a flush run upwards through my body and with as much humility as I could summon, I informed Shayde that:
“Yes, I could do that, but, you know, I am kind-of known to the people who listen to me as a Native American-style flute player!”
Oh! I’m sorry! I just meant that for my movie, I could really use the orchestration part, and not the flute — it doesn’t fit my story!”
“Right,” I mustered.
Three years later, Shayde chose the title track from the album, “Beloved” for a poignant scene in his feature, “Painting in the Rain.” The flute punctuates the scene perfectly. He put together the Beloved video as a thank you:
I have enjoyed what I hope is a good joke so much that I have extended it to my Native American flute player friends, including Wolfs Robe, whose traditional albums are almost exclusively played on the Native American flute.
Learning to Appreciate the Taiwanese “Ghost Month”
I have several dear friends who hail originally from the island of Taiwan. I have learned over the years that it is probably a good idea to lie low during Ghost Month. I used to take this with a grain of cultural salt, but as I age to perfection, I find myself attempting to be more flexible.
Every now and then, when I speak to someone new that I have met from Taiwan, I will ask about Ghost Month. Immediately, the response is something like,
“How do you know about Ghost Month? You’d better be careful during that time — a lot of strange things happen!”
For the benefit of the reader, I quote from Wikipedia:
“Taiwan: Ghost Month
Traditionally, it is believed that ghosts haunt the island of Taiwan for the entire seventh lunar month, when the mid-summer Ghost Festival is held. The month is known as Ghost Month. The first day of the month is marked by opening the gate of a temple, symbolizing the gates of hell. On the twelfth day, lamps on the main altar are lit. On the thirteenth day, a procession of lanterns is held. On the fourteenth day, a parade is held for releasing water lanterns. Incense and food are offered to the spirits to avoid them visiting homes and spirit paper money is also burnt as an offering. During the month, people avoid surgery, buying cars, swimming, and going out after dark. It is also important that addresses are not revealed to the ghosts.”
This year, I did not exactly follow the precepts of Ghost Month. I traveled to LA, where all appointments that I had arranged were unusually rescheduled out of the month. And I got a speeding citation in Jerome, AZ for blazing through town at 30 mph at night. At that moment, I was telling my passengers, who had suffered a motorcycle breakdown that afternoon that it was probably Ghost Month that contributed to the new tire blowing out 20 miles from civilization. They remarked that they would no longer show any disrespect for Ghost Month.
“In Another World”
I had begun the album, “In Another World” well-before the 7th lunar month this year. And by the time that I was working on the third song, Ghost Month had begun and suddenly the album took a sharp detour.
The first inkling that I had was during the recording of the song, Redona Me. The song starts in C minor, a key I don’t usually use, and pulses slowly until the melody begins to soar longingly — hopefully toward an unseen destination. There is no flute present (I thought of Shayde and smiled to myself).
By the time that I had completed the track, Contessina, I knew something was going to be different. Then, when I finished the first mix, I sent a copy to Shayde for his input. True to form, he said something like,
“This is the best s— you have ever done! The album is not just a collection of songs – these are compositions with a theme!”
Not content, he continued,
“I don’t know if this is good advice for you or not, but I like your new stuff so much, that I think you could lose a track or two of those flute solos.”
I asked, “Oh, you mean I should just take some flute out, and it will be perfect?”
“Hey, man,” Shayde quickly responded. “I know how you feel. Do you know how many of my own scenes that I have had to cut from my scripts?”
So, I continue to mix — it is yet to be seen whether I’ll be able to heed his advice with grace. Maybe the ghosts with whom I have tried to make piece will guide the way.
In the days following this original post, I received a three-page write up with Shayde’s comments. Nestled in the thoughts on transitions and old-Bill vs. new-Bill, there was a question about the track, “Redona Me:”
".... "Redone Me.” What is the 6th note in the melody, a 6th? It grabs me by the heart. And there’s a passing tone around 1:10 that just keeps me so off balance...."
I was more than willing to give him a heart-felt response:
“After an intro of alternating Cminor and Ab major chords, the melody starts its lift on the 5th (G) of the Cminor Chord. The melody then runs up the the scale of the minor chord passing through the 6th note to the octave, where the chord changes to Ab. The octave G note, which was the 5th of the Cmin chord then becomes the major 7th of the Ab chord. So, it would appear that the Ab maj 7 chord is moving you as it almost appears out of nowhere.
The melody then ‘relaxes’ back a full step to the F note as the chord progression reaches for the Bb major chord. The F note is the 5th in the Bb major chord, thereby strengthening the resolve of the longing in the initial melodic reach by resting at a major triad (F/Bb/D).
At about 1:10, the melody and the chord both rest briefly at Bb again. The melody then raises 1/2 step to the B natural, either implying a G7 chord or a Bb Add B chord that transitions to the Cminor chord again. This tension is storing the energy to lift to the next melodic vault.
I am sure that answered the question.
I was surprised and pleased to receive an email from music reviewer and master wood craftsman RJ Lannan in February, 2012 which read:
I am one of the reviewers at Zone Music Reporter. For some strange reason I believed I had a copy of Beloved. I clearly remember the girl on the white bed. But I have looked everywhere and I can find no record of you sending me something. May I impose on you for a review copy? Thanks in advance.
R J Lannan
In fact, because the music that I record in large part is my attempt at personal healing by creating an aural diary, I typically do not promote or send out copies of the albums to reviewers. And I had sent no copy of Beloved to anybody except my dear friends, Kitty and Creek Norris.
But for some time, I have been a fan of The Sounding Board by RJ Lannan and Binkelman’s Corner by Bill Binkelmen, which are music review columns published by ZoneMusicReporter. So it was a bit of a rush to see that here in June RJ Lannan had decided to review “Beloved,” one of my favorite projects. He had this to say:
[reprinted from http://zonemusicreporter.com/recording/viewreviews.asp?rvwbrd=2&rvwbrdpstn=1&rvwbrdcmmt=981]:
I love my writing job because I never know when a surprise will arrive in the mail in the form of great music. This time it is flutist Bill Leyden‘s latest creation, Beloved. For some unknown reason I have been receiving lots of flute music is the last two years; De Maria, Adams, Finzer and many more. Leyden’s music is powerful, yet remains subtle throughout the album of fifteen songs. There are some haunting solo performances as well as multi instrumentals. The light, synthesized orchestral accompaniment of many of the songs is filmy, weightless and does not impede the flow. Where the Hammond organ came from, I’ll never know. Furthermore, there are many Native American flute influences throughout, but that is not in fact the main theme. It sub-title could be something like “things you love” or “a musical journey in my life so far” of the things that I love. In any case, the gentle music is very additive and just the right medicine to calm the spirit. I beg indulgence with my Spanish title translations.
Beloved, the title tune opens the album with a sultry blend of haunting flute and back ground strings. It is s slowing pulsing melody, a heartbeat of passion if you will. There is a drifting quality to the music, a free-floating sense of a heart wandering about and then, returning to the point of origin, to return to safety perhaps.
Rel[oj] de la Vida (The Clock of Life) is the music of a solo wooden flute with its wondrous echoing sound and organic sense. I could hear the music reflect off canyon walls and through the forests as the mountains counted the seasons with their own sense of time. Man has yet to adjust his own spiritual timepiece to such magnificence.
The crash of ocean waves opens the song The Wake I Left. Synthesized background and flute verse balance in a song of inner directed refection. Like the sea, the tune does have a noticeable ebb and flow that slows down the heart long enough to permit retrospection.
Gueve del Tosoro (The Treasure Cave) is a solo piece that notes the history of a mysterious place in the south of Spain. You travel the coast road until you reach La Calla de Moral and take a right turn. The cave is one of the few carved by the sea and has stories of great fortune left by ancient conquerors. The treasure may actually be the blissful beauty that surrounds the area. Bill’s flute snakes along the paths and ends up somewhere in the hills where the legends and splendor abide.
Second Growth seemed so appropriate on the day of this writing. The storm came in quickly, and with a cleansing wash covered everything around me. The air was fresh and pure after its passing and everything seemed renewed. The leaves were greener, the irises were a brighter purple and the sky was study in blue contrast. Bill’s use of sinewy violin, gentle drones and an echoing flute promised second growth that was palpable.
Ya Habibi may be Arabic for loved one and so carries the title in a Middle Eastern themed solo flute tune. Though the arid wind blows and the empty desert freezes in the nighttime, the warbling intro and peaceful melody reminds me that there is no sun hot enough to desiccate the power of love. And no distance is too great to try to separate the heart of a lover from another.
Bill Leyden has at least forty albums that I know of. He is a master of the Native American flute and his music is intricate, emotional and peaceful. His dogma is that once we understand the theory of the Incans who believe that our body is surrounded by a special energy, than we can use the knowledge to heal in extraordinary ways. His music has made me a believer.
|Rating: Very Good|
(Reviewed by RJ Lannan 6/22/12)
As I read the review, I was astonished at how well RJ understands the story behind the Beloved album, as he put it in words that go beyond a mere description to a level where the emotion and ‘voyage’ of the track and its place in the album are masterfully conveyed.
Thank you, RJ!
Each time that I start a music project I wait to see if the music is going to come out as solo Native American-style flute music or whether there will be orchestration. I admit to a certain soft spot for orchestrated soundtracks, and I think I naturally lean to string arrangements with the addition of traditional woodwinds like the silver flute and the oboe.
I can’t really say that I ever start a musical project — more truly, it starts me! The last project, “Talking Stick” was like that. The recording hiatus that I had planned ended abruptly even before it started. And here it comes again – “Tracking the Bear.”
As a videographer, I find that many of the tracks are suitable for backing tracks of life stories and testimonials of trans-formation. This is music of contemplation and transformation. The musical phrases do not often repeat, but instead follow an idea to a conclusion ‘in-the-moment.’
After completing the album, I noticed that the flute phrases would appear in different tracks, slightly altered as if they were sweetened scents on the wind. Of course! I was tracking a musical scent. I hope you enjoy the result. Look for it on BandCamp and iTunes in February, 2012.
About the Flutes
On this album, I used flutes made by the following friends and craftsmen:
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!”