A Native American Flute Circle
By Leticia Andreas
Flute Gatherings and Circles of the Native American Flute have been around for quite some time, and can be found in almost every US state. Their purpose is a coming-together of performers, makers and enthusiasts of the Native American Flute. Other musicians are always welcome, such as guitarists, other flautists (Western-European flutes, Ney-flutes, Shakuhachi-flutes, Dizi-flutes, etc.), percussionists, crystal bowl players, and everybody else wanting to spend a great, spiritual, peaceful day with fellow artists and musicians listening to wonderful music. Some attendants of these flute circles are not musicians at all, but enjoy the sounds and performances, spoken words, friendliness and open sharing of the people in these circles.
The last flute circle in Southern California was held on September 15, 2001, at the home of Guillermo, an accomplished flute and percussion maker himself, as well as a player. Guillermo lives in a beautiful area in the Cleveland National Forrest in Orange County. His backyard is large enough to hold about one hundred guests, and the backyard of his immediate neighbor is used as a marketplace for the various flute makers or craftswomen and -men, displaying their art for sale. A flute circle requires that you bring a vegetarian potluck dish, or drinks, so the buffet has a great variety and is loaded with food items. Most people also bring their own camping chairs for comfort.
Usually, most people arrive early to help with the set-up of the stage equipment and the buffet. A regular flute circle is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the prayer starting at 11 a.m. This time, I arrived at 10:40 a.m., just in time to put my salad and fruits on the buffet table, place my chair next to my friend Robert, and say hello to people I had not seen in a few months. Just after 11 a.m., we gathered around the medicine wheel in the backyard, and Robert began the prayer to the Grandfather, or Creator, by thanking him for everything that we have. Because of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Robert then continued to pray for all the people whose lives had been lost, and for everyone else involved, near or far. He reminded us that the enemy is also part of us, and we are part of the enemy, as we are all connected: all humans, animals, and plants on this earth. After that, Robert went around to each and every person with a shell full of burning sage, to cleanse and bless everyone in the circle, while Guillermo beat a drum and sang. The prayer is one of my favorite parts of the day, and I never miss it, because everyone is connected during that time, and you feel peaceful and simply happy for a moment, I guess. Guillermo closed the prayer circle with stating that since September 11, he had kept a small fire going in the backyard, and on that tragic day had also made offerings at the medicine wheel, especially towards the direction of East.
The prayer ended with everyone honoring the four directions, meaning everyone in the circle turned first to the East, remaining there for a moment and shaking rattles, beating drums, blowing conch shells; then South, and same here with percussion; then West, and percussion; then North, and percussion.
After the prayer, most of us disbursed to the buffet, grabbed a bite to eat, sat down in our chairs and began to watch the first performances. Young Evren Ozan played first. I believe he is 8 now, and has played the Native American Flute since he was 3. He has been invited to play at the Nammys (the Native American Grammys) this year, and wanted to practice the song he would perform there. It was a nice, contemporary upbeat dance song, keyboards played the modern background music, and Evren played his flute melody over it.
Performances continued throughout the day by whoever had signed up on the sign-in sheet. Always one of the highlights are Sarah Thompson and Gary Lemos, an extremely talented Native musician couple who play all kinds of Native American Flutes, and percussion instruments. An emotionally charged performance came from a man from Oregon, who is a policeman. He played his Lakota Warrior song as a tribute to all the policemen and firefighters who perished in the New York attacks.
Around 2:30 p.m., the usual raffle was held, with tickets going for $2 each this time. The proceeds this time would go to the Red Cross in New York. My friend Robert Leon won an awesome gourd flute made by Guillermo himself, and an ecstatic Japanese couple won a cedar flute of Guillermos. Also raffled off were some beautiful Native American jewelry, and a painting of a Fancy Dancer by Terry-Anne. After the raffle, some people leave, and others hang out for a bit. I decided to leave soon also, before traffic would get the best of me on the hour-long ride back home to West L.A.
The Southern California Flute Circle is held only three times a year; the next gathering will probably be in January 2002. For more info on how to participate, please contact the author by Email: email@example.com
Flute Circles and Gatherings have been held for years, all over the United States, and they meet on a regular basis. The need for those arose out of the renaissance of the Native American Flute – NAF for short -, and its many friends and followers. It has been said that a Flute Circle provides an intimate venue for people interested in the NAF, to gather and share their talents and experiences, and even to help one another musically, spiritually, and educationally.
The NAF had nearly vanished from this part of the continent during the assimilation period of Native Americans in the early 1900s. Thanks to some Native peoples, the NAF and its music saw a revival in the 1960s to 1970s, when only a handful of original, elder NAF players were still alive and capable of passing on the art and music of the NAF to others.
The NAF is so popular due to its wonderful, haunting, meditative, and mostly pentatonic sounds, no matter which key the individual flute is in. The most traditional styles of the NAF are the 5-hole Lakota Courting Flutes, made mostly out of the traditional cedar. Now, many different styles and woods can be found, but all of them either 5-hole or 6-hole styles, with or without intricate carvings, fetishes, or adornments. The NAF, as a vertical flute, meaning it is played endblown, is easy to play, and is said to be a spiritual instrument with immense healing qualities. It has many legends of origin, but all of them similar and related to animals, nature, and their connections to humans.
Los Angeles based author Leticia Andreas plays Flute and Saxophone.