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Profile: The Apache Flutist

(I regret that I do not have this gentleman's name or photo to display. I met him several years ago at a Mattoponi Pow-Wow in King William County and have since lost his business card. He lives and works somewhere near McKenny, Virginia. If I ever see him again, I will ask permission to post his name and photo.)


Several years ago, some friends up in Aylett, VA invited me to a pow-wow on the Mattaponi Indian Reservation in King William County. There was almost constant music and dancing during this event, and I couldh't help but stop and listen to some fabulous flute sounds coming from the bandstand. This was strictly native stuff, you understand, and this guy was all over the instrument with some terrific rhythmic feel. To say the least, he and the drummers worked very well together.

Later on, I was shopping around the various booths for CDs of some of this music when I saw the flutist standing across from me. He was no more than twenty years old, dressed in his native garb, with his flute wrapped in a soft cloth. I struck up a conversation with him and this led to a couple of technical questions such as the key of his instrument and the kind of scale he used.

His reply was, "I can't really tell you because I don't know anything about music." I was taken aback. Of course this guy knows about music. He just put on a show that would humble a lot of high school and college players.

But he insisted, "I really don't know. In our culture, all of the braves do this as a means of attracting women. We make the flutes ourselves. All I know is that between the vent hole and the first finger hole is the width of two fists, and between each of the finger holes is the width of a finger. My Dad taught me to play, and to make the instrument. At night, when I get home from work, I sit on my back porch and play it for relaxation."

Wow! This guy just laid down most of the basic realities of playing music. First, it's for everyone--not just professionals. All the braves do it. Second, the goal is to please the listener. Generation after generation of Indian braves have played these instruments to attract women for marriage. This can be very competetive, and it doesn't pay to be mediocre or inept. Third, we see the ultimate truth that regular practice does more for the player than all the knowledge in the world. This guy has no concept of a scales or music theory. He imitates songs that he hears, and makes up songs of his own. He has played this thing so much that he knows what's going to come out of it in response to his manipulations. He plays by ear, and his ear is well-developed.

Finally, he demonstrates the ultimate purpose of music. It is to express our feelings, stimulate our minds, and to share in this journey with others. For my Apache friend, living in the boondocks south of Petersburg, music is much more than a class in school, a free ticket to ball games, or a marching competition. It's a real part of his life that he can either control or explore, alone or with friends. His skill and creativity belongs to him and no one can take it away.

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