Sunday, March 20, 2005

Road Trip: Casa Grande Ruins, Ariziona

Part of being a musician means life on the road. Playing the Native American flute, I tend to traveled through the Southwest a lot. Yesterday I did an appearance at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument and between sets got to take a tour of the largest ruin on the site, or “Big House”, for which the monument is named.

This very large structure is from the Hohokam culture which was once the largest prehistoric culture in what is now southern Arizona, around modern day Phoenix and Tucson. Built during the Civano phase circa AD 1300 - 1350 Casa Grande lies about halfway between these two modern cities. The Big House is the only remaining structure of it’s kind and was thought to be used by an elite class or perhaps for religious purposes by priests. It is made up of several rooms that surround an inner room. During it's height of use by the Hohokam it was four stories high. In addition to it’s size the building was also aligned to movements of the sun and moon.

In the inner most room of the Big House, holes in the wall are aligned with the equinoxes of the rising sun. In the photo above, the hole on the left is where the rising sun shines into Casa Grande during the equinox and casts it’s image on the opposite wall. As the sun moves higher in the sky, it’s the spot it projects on the opposite wall moves down the wall and lines up inside a hole in that wall. There are also alignments to the Major and Minor standstills of the moon.

Surrounding the Big House are adobe, or caliche, room blocks like modern apartment structures. These made up a larger compound that may have once been walled in like a small ancient medieval city. Casa Grande Runs National Monument consists of at least four of these compounds. Many of the compounds have platform mounds that where used for ceremonies, dances and other public events. Much like plazas are used by modern Pueblo cultures. There is also a ball court where an ancient game was played with a rubber ball. Ball courts are common in Meso America and their presence in North America is thought to be a cultural influence from there. Records of the Meso American version of the game indicate that the players could not use their hands while playing the game. In some cultures the losing team lost more than the game, they were sacrificed upon losing. To read more about other travels I’ve taken in the southwest visit the ECHOES FROM THE ROAD section of

As an aside, the desert, after the huge amounts of rain that have fallen this winter, is in full bloom now. Wildflowers are everywhere and everything is a wonderful green.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Mayan Moon Goddess flute

I thought it would be fun to take a look at a flute based on Meso American cultures. The term Meso American refers to the pre-Columbian, ancient cultures of what is now Mexico and Central American. The largest ones being the Aztec and Mayan. Aztec is the general name given to the empire of the Mexica culture, centered in the city of Tenochtitlan, now modern day Mexico City. The Mayan were a collection of city-states, like ancient Greece, in what is now Chiapas and the Yucat√°n peninsula in modern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and parts of Honduras and El Salvador. These cultures were rich with traditions that continue to the present day. Currently, there are a few makers of Meso American descent living in the U.S. that have revived the art of making flutes based on Meso American design. These flutes, like Native American flute are fipple flutes, but they lack some of the more complex construction of flutes from Native North American cultures. We'll talk more about flute construction in future postings.

The flute shown above is called the Mayan Moon Goddess flute. In Maya she is known as Ix Chel or Chak Chel. In her hands she holds the moon. It is 10” high and 4” wide across the bass. The mouth piece for this flute is the top of her head. She was made by Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. Xavier is from the Huichol culture, in modern Mexico, now living in Southern California.
Unlike the wooden flutes we’ve look at so far, this flute is made of clay. Clay, according to Meso American tradition encompasses the four elements of Life: Earth, Water, Fire and Wind. Earth is mixed with Water to make the clay, which is then Fired in a kiln. Finally the players breath is the Wind. The flute has four holes in front and one thumb hole in the back. Thumb holes are very common in Meso American styled flutes and are tuned to a half step that are not part of the North American flutes basic scale. It is in the key of F pentatonic minor. Personally, I do not consider this to be a flute but rather an ocarina as the bottom is completely sealed -not open. Never the less the sound of this instrument is a low, full, and deeply resonant. The small speakers on your computer will not do it justice. There are two examples for this instrument. Each a different verisons of my tune "Sombra de a Luna". One is a solo version from Sacred Dreams LINK: SOMBRA DE LA LUNA SOLO VERISO.
The second is a deeper exploration of the same tune with piano and guitar from New Fire.

The Mayan Moon Goddess was a major deity of the Mayans. As with many cultures throughout the world, the moon for the Mayans was associated feminine traits. She was the Goddess of childbirth, procreation, healing and by some accounts invented weaving. Note the beautiful belt that wraps around her waist and hang in front of her skirt on the flute. The moon is also associated with water and tides.

The image of the Moon Goddess sitting in a cresent moon is a common one. Native Americans and Meso Americans also associated the moon with a rabbit. They believed that you can see a rabbit’s silohette in the full moon. Here is a Mayan glyph of the Moon Goddess sitting in a cresent moon.

Look closely and you’ll see she’s holding a rabbit in her arms.

To find out more information about Xavier Quijas Yxayotl flutes, check out the Native American flute makers page on my web site. LINK: FLUTE MAKERS

Be sure to check out the photos of my flute collection on my web site. LINK: FLUTE PHOTOS.

If you have any questions, send them to me using the comment link below.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Native American flutes Part 3

Let's look at another "plains" style flute. As I mentioned before, "plains" style flutes are generally brighter in tone and louder in volume that "woodland" style flutes. When the term "plain" style is mentioned we are referring to flutes that came out of the plains of North American. There are a few theories as to why "plains" flutes are brighter and louder. One of these is that they had to be heard over greater distances and deal with things like wind, that would interfere with the sound. It could be as simple as one culture made them a certain way and then when they moved to another culture there was a change in design. Perhaps the second culture was making them from the memory of seeing a flute and didn't have one from which to model theirs. Personally I think the answer is lost to time and that a little mystery is a good thing. But I'm getting away from the flute I've picked for this posting.

The flute we're going to look at today was made by Scott Loomis of Wind's Song flutes.

It shouldn't surprise you to learn that this flute is made of cedar.

The block, a beautiful bird is also made of cedar.

This flutes sings. It's very responsive to both tonguing and fingering techniques. It seems built for soaring melodies. The tone is clear, smooth and very clean. Very little wind noise. I really enjoy playing fast passages and light syncopated rhythms on this instrument. We're going to link to two examples of this flute, both from my latest CD, New Fire. The first is from track 1 "Heart of the Sky". This tune is lively and floats in the higher register of the flute as well as holding it's own with the driving rhythms of kalimba and a tuned Aztec drum.
The other example is also from New Fire, a song called Ravens & Red-tails. In this song the tune is more lyrical yet has the distinctive chirps of the Native flute, with subtle note bends and ornamentations.

You might want to compare the audio sample of this flute with the other "plains" style flutes from Part 1. All of these flutes are made of cedar and in the key of G, yet each has it's own distinct characteristics.

This flute is 24" long and has a 1" bore. It was made in 1999. Loomis' flutes are have very a clean design and are made with great precision. The finger holes are of uniform size and evenly spaced. The tunings is excellent, but at the time I purchased this flute Scott was using a non-standard fingering for the octave. The standard fingering is all holes uncovered except for the fourth from the bottom. Wind's Song flutes finger the octave by covering the fifth hole from the bottom, not the fourth. Having said this I use the standard fingering and Loomis told me he does too. The same note is produced with both fingerings with a slight difference in pitch. One is in tune with the octave, the other a little sharp.
There are two very distinctive features to this flute. Normally the thin slit, or flue, between the bottom of the block (the bird sitting on top of the flute) is carved out from the flute itself. On this flute the flue is carved from the bottom of the block. To understand what this flue does read my article about The history, construction, traditional,
and modern uses of the Native American flute at ABOUT THE NATIVE AMERICAN FLUTE
The other interesting feature about this flute are the holes at the far end. These holse are both symbolic and practical. The vibrating column of air inside the flute stops at the four holes, so the placement of the holes plays a part in determining the over all tuning of the flute. Symbolically the four holes send the notes of the flutes to the four cardinal directions.

To find out more information about Scott Loomis' flutes, check out the Native American flute makers page on my web site. Look for the link to Wind's Song flutes LINK: FLUTE MAKERS

Be sure to check out the photos of my flute collection on my web site. LINK: FLUTE PHOTOS.

If you have any questions, send it to me using the link below.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Native American flutes Part 2

In the post "Native American flutes Part 1" we looked at flutes made in the "Plains" style. In this post we're going to look at a "Woodland" style flute made by Hawk Little John and Geri Little John of Woodsong flutes. (The main difference between these two styles is basically that the sound of a "Plains" style flute has a brighter tone while "Woodland" style flutes are more mellow.)

This flute, like the last two, is also made of cedar.

The block, the classic Little John design, is also made of cedar as are the tips.

This is an extremely expressive flute, having a haunting sound that begs to be played solo. It has a classic Little John tone, dark, resonant, and full. This particular flute is also a little temperamental and can squeak if you're not careful. My other Woodsong flutes do not do this. This squeak is not always bad. I like to use it during the ends of notes to add expression from time to time. Most "Woodland" style flutes are not built for fast fingering and tonguing. Not that they can't be played that way, it just seems most of the time to work against their lovely, warm sound. Here is an audio sample of this flute from my second CD, Sacred Dreams.
If you compare the audio sample of this flute with the flutes from Part 1 you might be able to hear the difference in tones.

The flute is 23-1/2" long and has a 1-1/4" bore. Hawk and Geri made it for me in 1999 and it is #63 of 250 flutes they made that year. Little John flutes are beautifully made, with simple clean lines. Unfortunately Hawk passed away a few years ago. A major loss to fans of the Native American flute. Geri is rumored to be making flutes again under the name Red Moon Flutes, but I have not spoken to her in a long time and do not have any information where to get them.
We'll talk about Little John "Woodland" style flutes in future postings, including looking at one of their Bass flutes.

To find out more information about these makers, check out the Native American flute makers page on my web site. LINK
There is no link for Woodsong flutes, however Geri LittleJohn is making flutes again under the name Green Grass flutes

Be sure to check out the photos of my flute collection on my web site. LINK.

Here is a page where you can also learn more about the history and construction too. LINK

If you have any questions, send it to me using the link below.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Native American flutes. Part 1

Let's look at a couple Native American flutes. I picked two flutes in the key of G so we can compare how, even though they're in the same key, they sound unique. Being in the same key is not all they share as we shall see.

To start let's take a look at a G Native American flute made by Michael Gulino of Moonlight Creek flutes.

This is a lovely flute made of cedar.

The block is a walnut coyote. Michael's signature block design.

This flute is one of my favorite flutes. It's easy to play, responds well to my fingers and is very expressive. I use it a lot live, and recorded it on the song "Emergence" from Distant Spirits".
The flute is 21-1/2" long (all measurements are rounded) and has a 1" bore. It has only five holes, but can play all the notes that a six hole flute can. Michael made it for me in 2000 and it is #269 of that year. His flutes are hand rounded which is very time consumming. This flute has a classic Native American flute sound to my ears. The tone is sweet, clear and has the familiar haunting quality of the instrument.

Now let's take a look at a Native American flute made by Marvin Yazzie of Yazzie flutes.

This flute is also made of cedar, but notice the lighter color.

It also has a wonderful horse block and tips made from walnut.

This was the first Yazzie flute I got and it is featured on my latest CD, New Fire, on track 10 "Ancient Memories". I love the subtleties of Yazzie flutes. They're great solo instruments.
This flute is also 21-1/2" long and has a 1" bore. This is a six hole flute and is hand carved by Marvin with a spoke shaver, which like Michael Gulino's flutes takes a longer time to make. Yazzie flutes have a haunting, round sound, which to my ears sounds a little clarinet-like. They still have that classic sound, but with a sligthly different quality.

I'll be talking about both of these makers in future postings. Both are great flute makers and wonderful people. If you're new to the Native American flute I would recommend both of their flutes for beginners. They are reasonably priced, well tuned and sound great. They are also prefect for more accomplished players as well.

As we look at other flutes one of the things we'll notice is that all flutes sound a little different. Even flutes in the same key, made by the same maker, and using the same wood will each have a slightly different sound.

To find out more information about these makers, check out the Native American flute makers page on my web site. LINK

Be sure to check out the photos of my collection on my web site. LINK.

Here is a page where you can also learn more about the history and construction too. LINK

If you have any questions send me a comment with the link below.

Shrine of the Ages Concert

Thought I would post some photos of a concert I did last year. A fan from Florida sent me these.
Playing a Hawk Little John bass G flute.

Here's a wider shot.

You can see more concert photos at