I have been a musician of some sort for over 20 years now, and I have always found myself drawn to the "traditional" or "folk" music of indigenous cultures from around the world. Whether it's the tribal beat of African or Native American drums, the lilting dance music and haunting airs of Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton, the sinuous maqam melodies of the middle east, or the poignant evanescence of Japanese gagaku, these and many other forms of world music have an intrinsic earthiness and spirituality which for me is the essence, or soul if you will, of music.
I grew up in what could be considered a somewhat musical family in southern Maine. My mother was a retired Public school music teacher, and my father played acoustic guitar, which I picked up and started playing in High school. After studying with master Celtic guitarist David Surette, I went on to study Classical guitar and voice at the University of Southern Maine, but left to pursue my original interest of Traditional Celtic and Folk music. I performed solo Celtic music for a few years, and then co-formed a somewhat successful Celtic Duo entitled "Awen". We performed throughout New England for about two years, and opened for the likes of Dick Gaughan, Aoife Clancy and Gaelic Storm. During this time period, I added the Irish bouzouki and the Bodhran (Irish Drum) to my musical arsenal. My partner at the time had an interest in Native American music and culture, and I purchased a Native American style Flute (NASF), but it sat collecting dust on my shelf for a year before circumstances would cause me to return to it out of desperation.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and after Awen seperated over musical differences, I attempted to return to my solo career. I was quickly brought up short by severe, chronic tendonitis in my left arm that had been developing over the last few years. Fearing for my sanity without some form of musical outlet, I picked up the almost forgotten flute. I discovered that not only did the mechanics of playing it not bother my tendontitis, but the innate spiritual and soothing aspect of the NASF helped me through the loss of my other instruments.
Exploring the NASF has also brought me into contact with numerous other types of "world" flutes. I have been able to revisit Celtic music via the Irish Low whistle, and I created a website devoted soley to this excellent instrument called The Pipersgrip. During my years at college studying classical music, I developed a love for Early music, and I have been excited to be able to continue to explore that genre via the Renaissance Recorder. I also spent a few years playing whistles and flutes as part of a performance troupe that featured Belly Dancers, and enjoyed being exposed to Middle Eastern music and rhythms, at which time I also picked up various Frame Drums such as the Tar/Daf, Bendir and Dayeruh.
I have also taken lessons on the Japanese bamboo flute, the Shakuhachi. One of the simplest flutes in design, the Shakuhachi is also considered by many to be the most difficult to play. Taking years to master, it can sometimes take weeks for a beginner just to make a sound! Besides being similar to the NASF in sound, construction and use as a meditative instrument, I was also drawn to the Shakuhachi for it's close relationship to Zen Buddhism. Much of the traditional repitoire (honkyoku) was written by Buddhist monks for the purpose of meditation and seeking enlightenment through sound (sometimes reffered to as "suizen" or blowing zen). Thus the Shakuhachi embodies and reflects my own, personal philosophy of the connection between music and the spiritual.
Native American Flute vs. Native American "Style" Flute
I am not a member of nor am I affliated with any Federally recognized (or not recognized for that matter) Native American Indian tribe or nation. I also do not consider the flutes that I play to be "Native American Flutes". True Native American flutes are/were not only made by Native Americans, but also did not have any standardized tuning as per western music theory. Indeed, it is believed that most Native American flutes were made using the measurements of the flute makers own body, therefore causing a wide variety in the pitches that any given Native American flute would produce/play. (This is often now refered to as "Grandfather" tuning) In the mid nineteen eighties, well known replica flute maker Michael Graham Allen created a hybrid flute by taking the dual chamber and block design of the Native American flute, and applying the minor pentatonic scale tuning, which he took from the Japanese Shakuhachi flute. While numerous names have been applied to this new hybrid version of the Native American flute, I have chosen to use the name "Native American Style Flute". I believe this name honors the origin of the flute while still distinguishing it from an actual Native American flute.