Carrying the Flute
My bag is full of flutes: some from Bolivia, Java, Hawaii, Africa, Japan
Europe, Australia, and from Turtle Island. Which is your favorite,
Which has the sweetest voice?
Some are long and dark, some wide, some mottled.
Still others have been broken, working differently than originally intended.
There are light colored, short, bristly voiced and smooth, high pitched ones.
Which is the most important…
Each brings an enriching quality that add
Fullness to my flute bag.
I was initially inspired with a deep interest in Native flute music in the 1980’s. At the time, I didn’t know of any other traditional flute makers in New England, but I really wanted to learn and started to listen to the music of several traditional Native flute players. I looked for a flute of my own but couldn’t afford the ones that called to me. Eventually my family gifted me with a flute, which inspired me to pursue a deep relationship with music and traditions that Native and many other Indigenous people hold in regard to the flute. By trial and error, I learned to construct the flute.
Over time, I developed a deep sense of relationship with, and responsibility to, the flute and its power to remind us of our sacredness and our interconnection with everything in Creation. The flute’s voice calls to the Sacred in every person and aspect of Life, in ways that transcend words or normal consciousness. Everything is sacred. Every breath, word, action, thought is sacred. Washing dishes, going for a walk, cleaning the car; it’s all a part of the same whole.
I think of instruments as important tools that can open doors because I think that they’re alive. They do work. They voice certain tones, and combinations of tones, that create vibrations that affect us physically. They create a space of openness or, at least, a willingness to be in that moment and be open. Humor and laughter create these spaces also. Together, they create a physical and social space where we can remember our connections to each other while exploring our differences as resources for new understanding and mutual awareness – instead of using them as weapons of divisiveness.
The flute’s body and voice reminds us of the interrelatedness, interdependence, and sacredness of all people and all of Creation. Flutes have a long history of articulating certain ideas for which words might not be adequate. Their bodies and voices are a profound manifestation of the life-giving power of the relationship between masculine and feminine energies – earth and sky, water and fire, humans and nature. When I’m looking at nature – trees, insects, birds, stones, all the other things we live with – they seem to be engaged in the activity that they’re intended to be engaged in. There’s a relationship that exists between those things, and what we could consider to be a respect for that relationship. There is a common thread that is honored and which enables the exchange and perpetuation of that life-force that gives them their existence and that also connects them to each other. Each tree in the forest is unique and uniquely important to the well-being of the forest as a whole, yet also shares profound commonalities with all other trees.
I feel that it’s an important time for people to look beyond the exteriors of what we look like and what we do, and try to recognize that Divineness lives within every person. When the flute is created or when I use the flute, it’s my intention to try to articulate these ideas, through the sound and vibration, and physical building of the flute. The flute can help us to remember the Sacredness within each of us and the relationships that exist between us and all of Creation. Like everything in Creation, music and sound vibrates, and vibrations emit energy. Through vibration, this thing we call spirit, energy, goddess, god, whatever it is – this Great Mystery – moves through objects, tools and things. To use the flute is my way of remembering our place as a part of everything else in nature and honoring our common source of life while celebrating our individual and cultural differences. To me, the greatest gift of the flute is its power as a tool for prayer and the healing that comes from remembering.
Common humanity, when I think of it, doesn’t mean that we’re all the same. Instead, it speaks to our origins, the source or place, before our manifestation in this bodily form. I think that we all come from the same source. Our culture can limit how it is that we see ourselves, even when we’re physically out of its usual context. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, it’s a safe place because it’s what we’re familiar with – we think we know it, so we’re comfortable with it. We might be physically in another space or place, but we carry that box with us. Common humanity allows us to see outside of that box. When people engage together in creative energy and creative activities, they can transcend or move beyond the definitions – the boxes – that we call culture.
Sometimes we exclude others’ way of seeing or doing or believing because we don’t avail ourselves of their way of being in the world, feeling that our own traditions or beliefs are better than others’ ways. We create chasms in our relationships with each other, which can perpetuate a hurting cycle. It’s my experience that a respectful exchange of music and musical traditions allows us to communicate with each other about our own ways of life, in ways more powerful than what we can share with words. Music can be a way to dialogue among and between Native and non-Native peoples. In my experience, these kinds of dialogues are critical to the preservation of Native traditions and to improving the world for future generations, through raising awareness and mutual understanding
With these perspectives in mind, the three broad goals I have for my work are:
- to promote the preservation and strength of Eastern Woodlands Native perspectives, traditions and communities
- to use music as a vehicle for creating common ground and dialogue between culturally and religiously diverse peoples
- to constantly expand my vision and skills as a composer and flute player
In the spirit of engaging music and musical instruments as a way to create a space of relationship and healing, and to experience others’ perspectives, I also enjoy learning about and playing instruments from many other traditions. Three of the instruments I most enjoy playing right now are the mbira, kora, and didgeridoo.
The mbira is an instrument from Zimbabwe, an instrument that is important to Shona people. It is used to communicate with their ancestors, to send messages to the spirits, and for healing. It’s played with your thumbs and an index finger, is often amplified by playing it inside a hollowed out gourd, called a deze. The mbira is usually accompanied by the hosho, a rattle made of dried gourds, and singing.
The kora is a stringed instrument made of a hollowed-out gourd called a calabash. It is usually covered with cow skin and the long neck is traditionally strung with 21 strings. Its cultural traditions are based in West Africa. It is played by men who are called griots, or jaliya – keepers of their people’s cultural narratives and histories. They participate in ceremonies and help to educate by giving voice to their traditions and ways of life.
The didgeridoo is an ancient wind instrument used by Aboriginal peoples in Australia. It is traditionally made from eucalyptus branches whose cores have been hollowed out by termites, shaping each instrument in an entirely unique way. The artwork on the outside is another way that the spirit of each instrument is acknowledged and expressed, in addition to the unique breath of each player. It requires circular breathing – inhaling through your nose while you simultaneously blow out through your mouth into the instrument. The effect of circular breathing is that the sound coming from the didgeridoo is unbroken.
I enjoy how you make people think without being overwhelming or condescending … you pull, instead of push. Too many people “shout” at an audience, not just necessarily in volume, but in terms of energy and delivery. When you “whisper”, folks listen better ~ Scott