Many years ago now, I bought a Native American flute from a flute maker in the mid-west. I had been taken in by the haunting beauty of Native American flute. I felt the flute in me, and I wanted to learn to play it. I looked to Native players for guidance. Somewhere, in a source I’ve lost, Carlos Nakai suggested a way to begin to play that I have followed ever since. It was an approach more akin to meditation than learning music (at least in the western models I have encountered). I’ve never looked at a sheet of music for the Native American flute or memorized fingering patterns.
After basic instruction in how to hold the flute, Nakai suggested opening one’s interior sight to the landscape and begin to play the landscape. If the inner landscape is low and quiet and slow, play that kind of sound from the flute. If it is bright and mountainous and filled with movement, play that kind of music on the flute. Over time, I began to feel this kind of music in me and in the flute, and it continues to be a learning process, a shaping. I am shaped by the inner landscapes I see and so is the music I make. In turn, the music I make shapes me. Very often I go away from a session of playing my flute and wonder where that music came from knowing full well that I was sitting there playing it.
The Sufi mystical poet, Hafiz, seems to understand this kind of experience with poetry:
Where does poetry live?
In the eye that says, “Wow-wee,”
In the overpowering felt splendor
Every sane mind knows
When it realizes—our life dance
is only for a few magic
From the heart saying,
“I am so damn
The dance that is this life is happening now. There are landscapes to take in–both within us and around us, of the glorious Earth Herself and all the beings that live in Her and because of Her. These landscapes of Inter-being are ours to take in–with our eyes, our ears, our fingers, our bodies, our tongues and our very breath. So, let’s take it all in, and then, let’s dance. Let’s make some music. Let’s write poetry, paint beauty, weave wonder, construct habitats of safety, touch with healing hands, and let the landscape of this World guide us. Today, we are so damn alive! The music is waiting inside of us to be played.
*translated by Daniel Ladinsky
What you said gives me some insight in how to approach my violin. I have been trained to read music and to play the classics. The times where I played my best was when I felt the music in my soul. That doesn’t happen too often, unfortunately. Perhaps I should just play according to how I feel at the moment. That can make my practice sessions more fun and relaxed, I believe. I’m going to try it!