Friday, March 19, 2010
A Flute, A Kiva and a Journey Home
This weekend is a return of sorts to where it began. My Native American Flute journey that is. Before I severed the tether of a day gig, as we call it, I had a number of jobs that were odd like when I supervised urinalysis tests for federal and state parolees while working at a university substance abuse center. I got to transport the blood and urine samples to the lab so it got me out of the office at least. Another job was with the All Indian Pueblo Council working with New Mexico’s 19 Pueblo tribes. I was in the Two Worlds program another substance abuse counseling service. Alcoholism was, and is a serious problem among Indian people. Having lost a few relatives to substance abuse and battled with it myself I was glad to have the chance to learn and teach about it. A few years ago a new friend asked why so many creative artists have addiction problems, was it because the creative part drove us crazy? I said no it is because what other job do people not blink when you have a beer during rehearsal or on stage? He was a retired postal worker so I asked what would happen if he walked his route with a jug of wine. He’d get fired of course. Or at least get in some trouble. With the arts, especially being in bands, it is the norm and goes from there. I used to perform in bars and clubs many years and the free stuff that comes to you, is in your dressing room, usually the storage room, is astonishing.
Okay, back to the story. So while I was working for AIPC I would travel around New Mexico educating health workers and tribal leaders about the risk of HIV and AIDS. The pay was abysmal, what they call Rez wages. I didn’t have a phone in my cubicle, a pencil, pen or job description. At night I would do club gigs, sing in operas, paid soloist at churches, you name it, to scrape by. Those were really hard and lean years but here’s the thing. Many of my meetings with other Indian health workers were at a place in Albuquerque called the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. It is a complex in the shape of a huge Kiva with a museum, offices, gift shop, restaurant and outdoor dance area where they held daily dances and performances. It is built, ironically, near where the Albuquerque Indian School used to be. There was a time when Indian kids were taken from their homes, had their hair cut, dressed in suits and dresses and sent to Indian Boarding schools to become “civilized.” It’s a very sad chapter in our country. They weren’t allowed to speak their language, punished severely for displaying their culture and rehabilitated from being savages. Of course the schools were religious which the most troubling part to me. When you look at the pictures of kids in these schools their faces are somber and sad.
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is a major tourist destination in Albuquerque and I guess it is good to celebrate the culture and definitely get some good food. Of course it is more than that to me, but you must start somewhere in telling your story. While I was waiting for meetings there years ago they seemed to always be piping flute music through the sound system. I had only heard Indian flute music in movies before that. The way it made me feel was clear. It was like church music filled with a sacred, still quality that spoke to me but not in a way of I have to buy that and learn it. It was more like I was listening in on something deep from the Earth and Wind. If you have ever been to Indian villages you know what I mean. There is a stillness and peace that you encounter to me just like a forest or cathedral. I knew I was hearing something that was a part of me. I saw the flutes in curio shops and had never played a woodwind instrument before and really never even thought I wanted to. Somehow it kept coming up and one night I dreamed that I was taken to the middle of the Earth and shown how a single flute player had been playing since time began. When this player died one was there to take over. This flute music is what kept the fabric of space and time vibrating. I was told it had to be and F flute. I didn’t even know they came in keys before that. So I’m watching National Geographic about space and a scientist says that there is a sound to the universe too low for us to hear. So they sped it up for our hearing range and it was somewhere between an F an F#. Then I opened a book on Hopis and the first page was from the 1800’s of a man playing a flute for the flute ceremony. I thought OK I get it and ordered my first flute. That was the winter of 2003.
So this weekend I’ll be performing on the Native American Flute at the place where I first heard the flute. I’m playing for their Sunday brunch. I don’t know how they learned about me. I didn’t ask. I never do. But I received an email asking if I was interested in the gig for brunch and playing on the patio is summer and I said sure. It’s only three hours from me so that is awesome. If you find yourself in Albuquerque Sunday from 11-2 come by and have some delicious Native food and hear some flute music. Should be a good time. Their website is http://www.indianpueblo.org/visit/cafe.html or call the Pueblo Harvest Café at 1-866-855-7902 for information or reservations.