Starting last year, and continuing into this year has been quite an interesting journey so far, with many new roads and offshoots demanding my attention.
Most of all, I find it hard to write about this subject without feeling like I am being a bit pretentious. After all, I am descended from immigrant Italians. I have no connection to any tribes. I live in the area of the country that has the largest Native American (tribal) population in the United States. I feel honored to be able to try, in my way, to learn this instrument and embrace its culture. I want to do this in a way that does not cause offense. It is time that we, as the uninvited culture, embrace and honor the culture that was here before us.
Since starting on this journey, I have been researching the history of the flute, and there is so much to learn – and unlearn, as well. But, enough of vague commentary.
Most of my technical learning has been through the John Vames’ Understanding the Gift, Volume 1. It’s pretty informative, and good for someone who doesn’t have a very formal music background, like me. I also found R. Carlos Nakai’s The Art of the Native American Flute a must have for understanding how this instrument became what it is today, and how important is to understand its role in bridging between the white and tribal nations.
My practice is sporadic, but mostly because I am caught between following a traditional music theory path, and what some people call an improv path. My guess is that my approach could be somewhere between the two – learning the basics of reading Nakai Tab and traditionally written music, and then playing straight from the heart. I have seen Nakia in concert twice so far. And the impression I walked away with from both venues (one with the RCNQ and the other with MusicaNova) is that RC soars when he plays from the heart.
My very first live exposure to the NAF was hearing Tony Duncan play at a Cave Creek (AZ) Art festival. It was just so beautiful I could only dream of being able to try and play. Yet, here I am, with five flutes to my name, still stumbling my way through finding my voice. That, I understand, comes with time. And the flutists that I have spoken with that play from the heart stress how important it is to be able to separate yourself from the western music style to achieve the real peace and grace that is present in the Native American flute.
That said, here is my first public performance, done on a volunteer basis. There is so much more to learn!