Years ago, when I was in school, I played the traditional concert-type metal flute, but ten years or so ago, I bought a Native American wooden “love flute” at a festival in North Georgia. The gentleman I bought the flute from was also the one who made it, and he explained how he did it: it is crafted of one solid piece of cedar. The very tip of it, and the “fetish” that is tied with a leather strip to adjust the sound are the only separate pieces. Many of these kinds of flutes are made from two pieces of wood hollowed out like little canoes and then joined together. But mine was roughly carved, then he heated round stones in a fire until they were glowing hot, and set them on the piece of wood so they would burn out a cylindrical hole. When it cooled, he would remove that stone and add another red-hot stone until he had burned out the entire length of the flute. Then he drilled the holes and sanded and sealed the outside. He also made a deerskin bag for the flute, for easy carrying and a safe place to keep it.
For the past few years, my wooden flute has sat lonely in my closet. After watching that 500 Nations video with Kathryn recently, however, I’ve been inspired to get it out and learn more than the one song that the flutemaker taught me the day I bought it.
I want to re-learn how to read sheet music, and I hope that will be fairly easy since I was once good at it — I’ve just long since forgotten it all. And I have to learn all the fingerings that accompany the notes. Those, of course, are completely different than what I once knew on my concert-flute.
There is a Native American legend (I’ve read that it began with the Lakota Sioux) that tells of a young brave who came upon a cedar tree that had been pecked with holes by woodpeckers. When the wind blew through the branches, it made a beautiful sound, so the young man broke off the branch and took it with him. This became the first flute, and it was traditionally used as an instrument of courting; this is why it is called the “love flute.” It was though that when a young man played his flute, the wind would carry the song into the heart of his chosen love. (Read several versions of the legend here: Native Flutes Legends)