Monday, November 24, 2008
Transcending DNA & Thanksgiving through music!
This year began with a set of concerts in a museum in January and in November another performance in another one. These are those great museums with life sized figures, sound, lighting and information plaques. I really like these places and get immersed in the past. Turns out both places have permanent exhibits about the first peoples of the area collectively “called ‘Paleo-Indians’ (meaning "ancient" Indians), appear to have occupied the Americas, including the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, for 10,000 to perhaps 40,000 years – a period of time longer than that for all the succeeding cultures combined” *
The fact that one of the most well-known spear head led to the idea of the “Clovis Man” around 15,000 years old was found a few hours north of where I was born has been on my mind as I reflect on these museum exhibits, the Thanksgiving holiday and my work as a Native American flute player and musician. My own family’s ancestry had always been murky and shrouded in stories of Apaches, a great-grandfather who was a Seer in the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, Aztecs, Mayans and Spanish and Germans who came to the new world via the Yucatan area. My ancestors didn’t take genealogy notes as they scraped by crossing back and forth over the Rio Grande. In order to be as truthful as I could I took a DNA test to determine my origins? The results are complex and there is a link on my website’s Bio page. Suffice to say that indeed my Amerindian heritage is ancient Mayan, Apache, Athabaskan, Dogrib and a few Central American tribes. What does this mean to me? I don’t know. Is this my culture? I don’t think so. I think a culture is first of all a shared language then shared values like how they care for their dead (something pretty important to archaeological research) and a shared history—their stories.
It turns out that DNA tests only test “two of your many” ancestral lines. You would need to test your mother’s male relatives and cousins in order to piece together the most accurate “probability” of your lines. Whew! Time and money baby. I’m satisfied knowing the little I do and decided to let things be and not pursue tribal enrollment. Funny thing is that DNA tests don’t reveal your spirituality, religion, political affiliation, language or any of the myriad “choices” we make in life. Does being Native American make me a better musician? A better flute player? Who knows? I often get the comment that a listener could tell I was Indian because of emotional playing. Hmm. I believe music transcends all that I am--thankfully. I have this notion that every experience I and my ancestors have is distilled through my music. What I mean is when I’m playing my egoic self is put to sleep and every joy, happiness, struggle, grief and spirituality is focused into a note. Musicians like Les Paul, Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald understood that and often talked about the importance of the one note you are playing being the most important.
So maybe in order to transcend through music the musician needs to transcend the cellular memory and be a prism, an instrument. I like that idea and don’t feel so alone knowing that all my ancestor’s work, struggle and resilience is supporting the music coming through. I can also blame them when I forget the notes. Ha ha.
Thanksgiving is here and I know it hasn’t been about the historic Pilgrim and Indian shared meal in a very long time. It is symbolic, a metaphor. As we gather with our families and friends we take part in something that every one of our ancestors has done—the sharing of bounty. So transcend any guilt or judgment and pass a little appreciation and love with those yummy mashed potatoes. I’ll be in Phoenix with my Flutes and Hang in tow hopefully making the holidays just a little more peaceful through music.
Happy Thanksgiving and Safe Travels.
Here is a little video of a song “Calling Snow” from Winter Colors, 2006.
Email Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-g6OlsENbRk