Long story, many sounds – The Fort Morgan Times
Debbie Rivers learned to play the flute on traditional silver instruments, but over the past six years has branched out to play on wooden Native American flutes.
She took a trip to the Four Corners in Colorado in 2008, and she discovered this unique type of flute.
“I thought, ‘Wow,'” she recalled during her presentation at the Aug. 12 Brown Bag Lunch at the Fort Morgan Library & Museum. “I wanted to play it. So I bought the flute in C.
Rivers owns three wooden Native American flutes, each handcrafted by artisan Michael Searching Bear in Ohio. Searching Bear is of Cherokee and Powhatan descent and makes flutes from a variety of woods.
The ones Rivers owns are made of softwoods, like pecan, walnut, and butternut, but one of them is made of orange osage hardwood.
“You can have them made from any wood you want,” Rivers said.
She said she was able to learn to play Native American flutes with some trial and error.
“With my other flute experience, I got into it,” she said. “They are quite easy. But I’m still exploring new things.
She said that Native American flutes are “like harmonicas” because they are “specifically tuned to a key, a kind of semi-pentatonic.”
Although her flutes are all in minor keys, which was her preference, they can be made for major keys, she said. The minor key allows it to more easily play a wider variety of music, including blues.
Rivers even played blues for his Fort Morgan audience, drawing plenty of applause.
She also performed traditional Native American tunes and songs that she composed.
The history of Native American flutes was also part of Rivers’ presentation.
She shared two of the legends about the creation of the flutes.
The first was that of a young boy who wanted to hunt but caught nothing. Along the way, he saw two elk that weren’t really elk. They were men who played the flute. The boy went on a vision quest and learned how to make the first flute.
“It sounded so beautiful, and when he started playing, the girls started following him,” Rivers said.
The second legend she shared had a similar ending, but it was a woodpecker tapping on a branch and found by a boy on a vision quest that led to the creation of the first flute.
There was a time when the US government wouldn’t let Native American tribes play their flutes, Rivers said. This was part of a plan to get Native Americans to assimilate into mainstream American culture.
It lasted roughly from the 1890s through the 1940s, with a resurgence of the Native American flute in the 1960s when the instrument gained popularity with hippies, Rivers said. It has also reappeared in Native culture and is “very common” at events like powwows.
“They’re still considered a man’s instrument, but it’s also a healing instrument,” Rivers said. “Some Native Americans see them as powerful medicine. I really like playing them.”
She played many tunes using her three Native American flutes, including “Shenandoah”, “It Is Well With My Soul”, “I’m a Way-Faring Stranger”, and many of her own creations.
One of them is “Sunny Summer Day,” which she says “looks like little birds and is just fun.”
Some of the songs played on two of his flutes had a more pronounced chirping sound, prompting Brown Bag customer Ruth Wickham to ask what caused the sound.
“It’s the way it’s designed,” Rivers replied. “Some flute makers don’t like chirping, but mine does. And me too. I think that sounds good.
She also explained how one of her flutes is “double chambered”.
This means that the wind she blows into the instrument is “split out and through two chambers”, producing her unique sound, she said. “Native American flutes are the only double-chambered ones.”
Rivers said Native American wooden flutes require some care.
“I try to keep as much moisture in the air as possible in the winter because they crack,” she said.
One of his flutes even sported a bandage, where it split recently.
Rivers said she plans to send it back to Searching Bear to have a turquoise inlay inserted to “fix” it where it separated.
“I just didn’t send it back because I don’t want to be without it,” she said, her attachment to the instrument evident in her tone.
Rivers said she also had to send the instruments back to the manufacturer to have the interior cleaned, but could do most of the normal exterior maintenance.
“I thought it would be hard to deal with, but it’s not,” she said. “They will last forever.”
The Brown Bag Lunch audience seemed to really enjoy Rivers’ music, asking him to play more songs and then asking him a lot of questions about his flutes.
Library and Museum Technology Coordinator Lanny Page, himself a musician, is a fan of Native American flutes.
“When you hear someone very talented on these, they’re kind of haunting,” he said.
He said he enjoyed Rivers’ program very much.
Rivers plays monthly jam sessions on the first Sunday at the Heritage Center in Sterling. She is also part of the Blue Yiperoo group and also plays her silver flute.
To learn more about his music, check out http://reverbnation.com/blueyiperoo” title=”reverbnation.com“>reverbnation.com/blueyiperoo.
Contact Times Editor Jenni Grubbs at [email protected], follow @JenniGrubbs on Twitter, or check out everything.com/jennigrubbs