Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Musical Adventures Part V - A Musical Voice from Within

(This is part v of My Musical Adventures. To read parts i - iv, please see the archives to the right)

I have to backtrack a little before I can begin this part of the story:

Since the mid-1990s, I have spent time every summer until this year on the Navajo Reservation. Often I spend a majority of the summer there backpacking and hanging out with my friend, Howard, who has a little campground.

I went there the first time just after being separated from my first wife with some friends. I sat at Howard's campground feeling sorry for myself, and telling my friends that I was disappointed, because the previous week on the Reservation, though very interesting and uplifting, had failed to be the magical cure I had hoped for. And then things really started to change.

On the way to Howard's campground, we had joked about having a caterer there to prepare our meals. When we got there, there was a truck parked in the driveway that had a stove and made fresh, Native food. So the amazing things had begun.

After I made this comment, Howard came over and sat in our campsite with us, telling us stories as the fire played off his face, and a meteor from the Pleides Meteor Shower would fly by his head every couple of minutes. We listened in stunned awe. This kept up for a couple hours, until Howard's cell phone rang, and he walked off into the dark speaking in Navajo.  The next day, I was unable to leave footprints. We all stomped around in the desert dust, and everyone else could leave footprints, even a petite woman in our party, but I could not.

As I visited Howard year after year, he would reveal more and more to me. Some years we could hike for hours together in the canyons, and he would tell me stories. Some years I would scarcely see him, except when he would show up, unexpectedly, and say something amazingly, amazingly profound and leave.

The summer of 2004, I think it was, I spent several weeks on a couple reservations; the Ute Tribal Mountain Park and then a few places on the Navajo reservation. In both places, we visited numerous ruins of the Ancestral Puebloans (aka Anasazi.) On the Ute Reservation, where the ruins from Mesa Verde continue, I followed my guide over the edge of a cliff, climbing hundreds of feet down a sheer rock face using ancient hand and footholds. We entered an amazingly well preserved ruin. As Ricky, my guide, pulled out his lunch he told me how hard that ruin was to find. "You're probably the first white guy ever to be here," he said, chewing on a sandwich.

Ricky showed me some odd shaped, small holes in the ground. "Be careful if you see these," he warned. This means there are ghosts around!" he told me how careful people had to be around the ruins as not to get the 'ghost sickness.' He told me that he got up at 4am and prayed for 3 hours before he would take me into the ruins, day after day.

That night, I started having my problem with ghosts.

I was sleeping in a small, primitive campground in the 110,000 acre Ute Mountain Tribal Park. Ricky left me off there, and went home for the night. I was probably the only person in the park. I heard noises all night, and had nightmares of Anasazi spirits trying to steal my soul. When I looked out of my tent the next morning, just after daylight, there were 'ghost holes' as far as they eye could see.

I bolted out of there and sat for a long time on the other side if the campground. I finally overcame my fright enough to pack up my gear as quickly as I could. I packed my car, and then I went back over to take a picture of the 'ghost holes' with my brand new camera. The camera didn't work. I looked at my watch to see when Ricky would be there. It had stopped at about 2:00.

Finally Ricky showed up in his van. We visited the most remote ruin site, and then I left. After I exited the park, I pulled off the road just to see if my camera and watch worked again, now that I was gone. They both worked flawlessly. When I got to Howard's, a week or so later, he showed me his sweat lodge. He told me maybe someday he would do a sweat lodge ceremony with me. But not yet.

I had some additional ghost issues that year. The next year, I went on a 40 mile hike around Navajo Mountain with my friends Chris and Karen. Though not as dramatic, I did have a few minor ghost encounters: some more ghost holes, dismembered voices, etc...

When I got back to work that year, I started suffering some pretty serious health issues. By spring, I was having so many health problems, as well as bouts of bad luck, such as being bitten by a student, and having my car pummeled by rocks by my students, and so on, so I took a couple weeks off to regain my health.

My approach to health is, often, to hit it from a variety of angles. So I stepped up my yoga and tai chi chu'an practice, I saw a doctor, I went to an acupuncturist, and I enlisted the services of two shamans: a Celtic practicioner from Denver, and Howard, who I had realized was a very powerful healer.

I began to restore my health fairly quickly. After my visit to the Denver shamanic practicioner, I felt 'whole' again. It was just after this that I recorded 'Crow,' my first Native American Flute album. You can listen to that CD at

I ended my period of healing by going down to the Navajo Reservation and doing a long hike followed by my first sweat lodge with Howard, 3 of my friends and several Navajo men. It was an amazingly powerful experience.

After that, my life, and especially my music really took off. My illness had been symptomatic of a life-long health condition. After that spring, I have had no symptoms since. That has been five years of almost perfect health.

A week after I recorded 'Crow,' I sold all the copies of the CD I had made. I was offered a position playing Native American Flute at the local Native souvenir shop in my town. A few weeks later, I met Paul Mimlitsh, who has pushed my musicality in ever different directions. (I will talk more about what he and I do in a future blog.) I joined a folk band, that later became a fairly profitable rock band.

But the outward aspects of my musicality was only the tip of the iceberg as far as what was going on inside, and how I was able to master dozens of instruments over the next few years.

I probably looked like some sort of out-of-control shop-a-holic as I compulsively purchased instrument after instrument; flutes, didgeridoos, stringed instruments, percussion and other instruments. I didn't even know what a lot of them were. But it wasn't like I was just browsing ebay looking for unusual instruments - I was being driven. I would wake up in the middle of the night compelled to buy a Chinese xiao. I didn't even know what a xiao was! But I bought one. I got a Morin Huur, a Mongolian cello like instrument. the list kept going.

After all this experience with the remarkable healing, I set aside daily time for Shamanic meditation. During one such meditation, I encountered a Hopi spirit who taught me sophisticated technique on my Hopi Flute over several days. "You're doing it all wrong," he told me. "There are two scales that we use. One starts with three fingers down (Eb) and one with four fingers down (C#.) I was further instructed on fingering for all the accidentals, and so forth. I will have to play it more regularly to remember all the nuances.

One day I woke up, and suddenly realized that while I slept, I had learned how to play rhythms on the didgeridoo. I went to my didge and played it. Over the next several weeks, I recorded "Crocodile Dreaming", which features the didgeridoo. I can play it better, now.

I have three didgeridoos, but I have struggled to play two of them, one in F# and one in C. A couple weeks ago, I received a strong message to remove the wax mouthpieces that they came with. I did so, and now I can play all three.

When I was learning to play the Morin Huur, I knew it was tuned in fourths. I received a strong message that the technique was different than western stringed instruments, as the fingers push the strings sideways or upward, not against the fingerboard. I worked this out, and confirmed my findings through a video I found on youtube. Also, I received a message to tune it in fifths, instead of fourths. I found out later that the igil, the Tuvan version of this instrument, is tuned in fifths.

Recently, I have been revisiting throat singing, speaking of Tuvans. And a remarkable amount of synchronistic occurrences have taken place in the past few weeks around this, from some books I have, that I did not know breeched the subject, discussing the technique of throat-singing, to my wife taking me to an event that all I knew was about 'sound and light.' It featured a very good overtone singer. This same singer used the term 'undertone singing,' and demonstrated this, without discussing the technique, and it occurred to me how to do it through the next few days.

Another example of music playing me like an instrument is my CD "Ghost: A Shamanic Journey Mediation." I awoke at midnight one night, sort of in a trance. I woke up with the knowledge of how to use the didgeridoo as a healing device. This is a technique I regarded as charlatan only a few weeks earlier. I was given quick instructions to set up my recording equipment and start working. I had specific instructions on what and how to record and overdub different instruments. About 15 hours later, I was adding binaural beats and mixing this album together. It is rough, and has pops and some inconsistencies, but, I think, a generally quite powerful meditation. It is also my best selling album to date. It is an hour long, and is in two, incomplete parts on Bandcamp, I have made it available at other download sites for very little. It is 99 cents on in its 1 hour entirety.

I could go on about the 'downloads' of musical information I receive all the time. There are literally hundreds of examples of this.

Even my latest CD, "Art of the Flute,", just sort of happened. I was putting together some pieces for a demo to play a flute festival next summer. After I pulled together the most tonal flute pieces I had recorded, I had no desire to play the festival, but knew I needed to release this CD. It is a compilation from the 5 years of shamanic/hypnotic CDs I have released.

Incidentally the new CD I appear to be making is taking a completely different direction, and I have so far recorded five upbeat jazz pieces.

So, Music seems to have plans for me. It used to be jarring to wake up and completely scrap what I had been doing for months to follow the specific directions given to me by Music. Now I just take it for granted. So if I wake up on any given morning and say "Hmmm. I appear to be a trumpet player, now." It is not surprising.

I haven't had this discussion yet with Paul, but feel he must know what I am talking about. He has shown up to a gig with a clarinet, instead of his guitar and electronics.

"I didn't know you were a clarinet player."
"Neither did I."
"Hmm. Well, let's play something."

To be continued.

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