My journey to build Native American Styled Flutes started more than 10+ years ago. Right here under the watchful eye of the majestic Teton Range. My son Brock is a very accomplished musician and has been since the age of 6. Now 30, Brock has become a very accomplished drummer, singer songwriter, recording engineer and he too plays and writes music for the Native American Flute.
One of Brock’s closest friends is an Assiniboine Native American boy (or should I say man) by the name of Nakoa Heavyrunner. Nakoa was raised on the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana and Nakoa today is a very popular, accomplished Native American music artist in his own right. Nakoa is known all over the reservations across this country and beyond. Including the launch of the first true Indigenous Sounds Radio that brings consolidated music to the work from the top Native/Indigenous record labels.
Both Nakoa and Brock have enjoyed writing, playing and producing music together since they first met at a mini pow wow held here in Jackson one summer long ago.
A few years ago Nakoa and Brock were playing and recording flute songs in our home here in Jackson, Wyoming. About this time Nakoa’s father who was staying with us was mentoring me on how to handcraft a Native American styled pipe. Donovan Sr. is widely known as a master pipe maker and he truly believed that there was an artist within me. It was this weekend when I overheard Brock and Nakoa complaining about the quality of the flutes they were playing. I, without thinking said to them that if they did not like what they had that I would be happy to build them a flute of their own. After all I was becoming a master Pipe Maker (lots of love), Besides, how hard could it be? I was learning to make pipes – flutes seemed within the realm of possibilities.
It was at this moment that began my journey, a journey that started out with sincere desire to make a flute for my son and his friend but I quickly found out it would be the beginning of nothing but frustration for some to come. I thought it would be easy to find detailed information about how to build a Native American flute and what I found out was that there was little if any detailed information available. So I gathered what I could find on the Internet at the time and started out to build my first flute on a warm Saturday afternoon. Needless to say it was a complete disaster. Although it looked fairly good when finished – it sounded terrible. Actually it did not play at all for the most part.
For the next year I learned what I could through research and talking with others who made flutes and those who were willing to visit with me, but most of my knowledge was developed through trial and error. I simply began building flutes on my off time and one by one I started to figure out what I was doing wrong and with each successive flute they got better and better. Most all of the flutes I made during that first year were made entirely by hand. I started out hand carving the Flute Bores, the Slow Air Chambers, the Blow Holes and even hand drilled the Playing Holes. Eventually I got pretty good at it. But there were many times I simply quit for a week or two out of frustration and when I cooled down I would start again.
Because I spent so much time learning to make these wonderful wind instruments by hand I continue to make them to this day in mostly in the same way. I found that by hand planning the flute to its final shape I ended up with what is now my signature look for all of my flutes. In the past most Native American flutes were shaped by hand using knives or sharp stones so using a hand plane is not too much different. You cannot craft a NAF flute to look like the way mine do unless you hand plane them each and every time.
Today I am pleased with the progress I have made over the last several years and today the flutes I am producing are beautiful to look at. They are easy to play and they sound wonderful. We have created our own accents that make our flutes somewhat unique and the final product we now produce is one that I am now proud to put my name to. During the summer of 2011 I was invited for the first time to participate in the Western Design Conference held each year in Jackson Hole. I was awarded the prestigious Sonny Tuttle Award at the Western Design Conference and it was then I realized I had finally achieved what I started out to more than 4+ years earlier. I have returned each year since to the Western Design Conference and this year is no exception. I have been rewarded many times now for my art and I am humbled each time.
This is a condensed version of my journey but I can tell you that I have met some amazing people along the way and continue to do so. One of the things I have come to realize is how important it is to share with others who are interested what I have learned. By sharing this knowledge it helps me continue on my journey and who knows where it will lead.