- Sunset, sunrise, nature, people, life – joined by ancient mystical melody
- Sacred, spiritual, mythical – outreach of Native American harmony
- End of the day stress relief for modern America
By Larry Whiteley
I don’t remember the first time I heard the melodic sounds of a Native American flute, but the music still lingers in my soul. It is to most who hear it, an almost spiritual experience.
Legend has it that a woodpecker pecked holes in a cedar limb and gifted a young brave the first flute, but it wouldn’t play. He had to first humble himself before it would sing. Since the heart of the cedar had been removed from the flute, it was his duty as a flute player to replace it with his own heart when he played.
I love to read about the time when America’s Mountain Men traveled through the mountains and valleys of the west, hunting and trapping animals for their fur. It was a tough life, but I sometimes wish I had lived back then. They often heard the haunting sound of the flutes and called the mystical music “wind songs.”
The Native American flute is the only melodic wind instrument belonging to the people of this continent and the only instrument indigenous exclusively to America. The oldest Native American flute is the Beltrami Native American flute. It was collected by the Italian explorer, Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, while on a journey through present-day Minnesota in 1823.
Made mostly of cedar or river cane, they were used by many tribes for many different reasons. Some tribes used the flute for ceremonial purposes, in others, young braves would use it to try and win the hand of their hopeful bride to be. Mostly though, the flute was used to empty one’s self of all the things which could not be expressed in words. North American flute music is natural stress relief. In this crazy world we live in today, maybe we all need to learn to play a Native American flute or at least listen to their music to escape the craziness.
Since the first time I heard a Native American flute something within me wanted to know more about it. How are they made? What gives them their beautiful sound? Can a musically challenged person like myself learn to play one?
I consider flutes as not just a musical instrument, but also a work of art. Besides cedar and cane flutes they also make flutes of ash, maple, mahogany, blood wood, ebony, Alaskan yellow cedar and other woods from all over the world. Each has its own distinct sound and beauty when crafted by the hand of a master.
The flute is one of the easiest wind instruments to play. Minor tuning makes it easy because more notes go together than most contemporary instruments. A beginning flute player does not need to know conventional music when learning to play these instruments. It is a tool for self-expression. This simplicity allows non-trained individuals to be able to pick up the flute and make pleasing sounds within a matter of minutes. Master flute makers will tell you they have never sold a flute because a flute sells itself.
You don’t have to play songs on a flute that everyone knows. Simply play what is in your heart. Look to a sunset or sunrise, the valleys and mountains, the streams and lakes, the wildlife and wild flowers. The world of nature contains countless songs. Look there for inspiration and play what you feel.
Native American flutes and lessons may be available in your area. You can also go online and order a flute, an instruction book, listen to flute music or order accessories. These special Native American instruments, treated with care, will bring a lifetime of musical pleasure.
It is a beautiful early spring day. I sit on a special tree stump high on a hill overlooking a valley near the Mark Twain National Forest of southern Missouri. An eagle is flying in a bright blue sky.
I think of the Native Americans and how this was their land before the white man stole it from them. I think of how they took care of their land and tried to protect it from the white man’s onslaught. I think of how they honored the game when they took its life to feed their family. I think of how they didn’t waste any part of the animal and only took what they needed. They were the first conservationist’s. They fought only to protect what was theirs.
My flute in hand, I play from my heart. It is an escape from this crazy world for just a little while out in nature away from it all. As I play, I also think of the Mountain Men listening to the haunting, mystical sounds of “wind songs” in the distance, sweeping through the valley.
We are connected.