September 18, 2016

Pegasus the Horse of Thunder, Lightning and the Muses

Pegasus means "spring forth" or "of the springs." Pegasus is an immortal flying horse with close ties to fresh water springs. Only in later myths is he described as having wings. Today, his wings are most often white but that may be a very recent color change. There are quite a few divine horses running around the Greek sky. They are usually descended from the Gods of the four winds or the spirits of storm winds. Pegasus’s parents, however, are most often Medusa and Poseidon. He "sprang" from Medusa’s neck when she was killed. In older stories, Pegasus carried thunder and lightening for Zeus. The constellation Pegasus rises in the spring, bringing warm weather and rainstorms. Eos the Goddess of dawn also got along well with Pegasus. Each morning they traveled across the sky, Eos’s torch lighting the sky before the sun rose.

In the more adventure oriented stories, Athena Chalinitis, "the horse bridler," tames Pegasus with a golden bridle and gives him to the hero Bellerophon or she tells him how to tame the horse. Bellerophon rides Pegasus into battle with the Chimaera. Some people say this is a myth about the spring storms defeating the winter season. Unfortunately, Bellerophon doesn’t stop at using a winged horse to win battles and tries to fly to the Gods’ home. Pegasus throws him to the ground, usually at the request of the Gods and returns to flying wild.

Pegasus also appears in the contest of the 7 Muses of Pieria and the 9 Muses of the Olympians at Mount Helicon. The mountain rose up into the sky during the singing contest and Poseidon sent Pegasus to stamp the mountain back to the ground. The four springs of the Hippocrene fountain "horse spring," appeared where Pegasus’s hooves struck the mountain. The Muses promptly added this fountain to their collection of sacred springs of inspiration. Pegasus could almost be tracked by the springs his hooves created across the land (maybe he got thirsty easy) and most of these springs ended up being linked to the Muses, prophecy and ritual cleansings. Pegasides is a term for nymphs of springs and fresh water streams and is one of the many group names for the Muses. All of this may be why in later stories, Athena again tames Pegasus and this time gives him to the Muses.

The constellation called Pegasus has a few more stories linked to it. Chiron the healing Centaur had a daughter who had the gift of prophecy but she told too many secrets and was transformed into a mare (usually black) by Zeus. Artemis however stepped in and placed her in the sky as the constellation Pegasus. The Centaur’s daughter has a confusing list of names. Euippe or Hippe, "the good mare," and Ocyrhoe "the swiftly flowing" seem to be the most common but she is also called Melanippe "the black mare" and even Antiope. Intriguingly, the 7 Muses of Pieria are sometimes said to be the daughters of a nymph name Euippe or Antiope. One final horse and Muse related name to end with; Aganippe "the gentle horse who overwhelms" is the title of Demeter as a black horse with wings. Aganippe is also the name of a nymph who raised the Olympian Muses and gave them her spring which was known for inspiration.

Pegasus soars through the black sky filled with stars, leaps in the dark clouds filled with rain and brings inspiration and prophecies from the dark earthy source of sweet spring waters.

May 7, 2016

The Mythical Jacquaflute Arrives!

Not exactly myth related but I'm excited and want to share the sound clip.

I've been wishing for a vertically held rim-blown flute for some time. There are lots out there but none of them where quite what I wanted (a few examples are the Middle Eastern ney, the Japanese shakuhachi and the South American quena). Then I found someone who makes both Ancestor Pueblo/Anasazi style flutes and keyless transverse wood flutes. I asked him to mix them together in a size that fit my hands. Here is the result.

Cross between Pueblo / Anasazi style flute and keyless transverse flute

Sycamore rim-blown flute in G made by Jon Norris Music & Arts
The embouchure is quite different from a concert flute but not harder. Think of it as like blowing across a water bottle but trickier because there's a sweet spot. I spent a couple of days getting the flute to speak reliably and a week getting a feel for the range and different tones it can make. It just keeps getting more fun as I go and sounds amazing outside, especially in the woods.

Like most flutes, getting a good recording takes a few trials and errors. I'm still working out the kinks and feedback issues that go with this flute but I think I managed to get a decent track here.

A short bit about Pueblo/Anasazi flutes.
First, the name. Ancestor Pueblo is more polite but Anasazi is more widely used. Archeologists are a bit weird about saying the Anasazi people are related to today's Pueblo tribes. There isn't really a good reason for this. In Europe, they don't hesitate to call ancient remains German or French based on where they were found and then explain that they may or may not be direct ancestors of the people living in those countries. But not here in the Americas. Makes them seem a bit silly to me.
Second, the age. The Pueblo flutes that have been found in the Desert Southwest are around 1500 years old (at least). This means they predate Columbus and even the Vikings in the Americas. It is unusual to find wood instruments this old anywhere simply because of how fast wood decays. Older flutes (and other instruments) have been found but they are generally made of bone, clay or stone.
Now the size. The Pueblo flutes that have been dug up are all fairly large and deep. The low range is generally considered the best part of this instrument's voice and with good reason! It's a wonderfully lush tone. However, this doesn't mean smaller versions didn't exist just that we haven't found any. The Hopi flute and the South America quena are both examples of more current rim-blown flutes that are smaller and higher than the Pueblo flute. It would make sense for these flutes to be related to the Pueblo flutes but again, we don't know for sure. Individual makers certainly made changes to the design that seemed good to them (or to accommodate some lunatic musician's ideas) just as they do today. Nothing in music stays static really. It is a constantly changing art form.
Finally the scale and finger placement. The Pueblo flutes don't use a diatonic, pentatonic or chromatic scale. It's pretty intriguing and seems to be set up to let the musician chose between a major or minor sound (or go back and forth) without having to go up into the higher register. I went for a scale I'm already familiar with for my first venture into rim-blown flutes but may well try out the other scale sometime. In a way, this made my flute similar to the South American quena. But without a thumb hole and with smaller, easier to cover finger holes. And a different blowing edge which gives me a wider variety of sounds and a different tone than the quena. More on the quena in a later post.

So there you go. The Mythical Jackalope flute has been sighted, lured into the open and determined to exist at long last.

March 20, 2016

Turtles, Rabbits, Birds; Flute Players in the Americas

Every culture in the world seems to have some version of the flute. The idea of blowing across a hole and splitting air to make music is not really that difficult to come up with so this isn't that surprising. But there are many different ways these instruments develop. In the Americas, many different flutes have existed for many, many years. And like all flutes, there are many stories about them.

The Native American flute (sometimes called the Woodland flute or Plains flute though those two are not exactly the same) is held vertically and actually has more in common with the recorder than the concert flute. Both have a duct or a chamber that guides the air stream to the edge that creates sound. The Native American flute has an external duct and a different scale than the concert flute which is part of what creates it's individual sound. It is generally considered a North American instrument and yes, there are several different versions of this instrument in different tribes. In some stories, the Native flute was “invented” by a young man who heard music on the breeze coming from a hollow branch with holes made by a woodpecker. In others, the woodpecker is considered the musical inventor who gave the flute to people to express themselves better.

Woodpecker the Flute Maker
Woodpecker the Flute Maker

Native American flutes were often used as courting instruments and to lure girls outside and away from their parents. R. Carlos Nakai has said that unmarried girls from Native societies are still sometimes not allowed to attend his concerts and there are still far fewer women who play this instrument than men. Mary Youngblood is one of the more famous exceptions. Kokopelli (there are several different spellings) is possibly the most famous flute player from the Americas. The hunched figure playing a flute or pipe is found in ancient rock art all over the Southwest and Central America. There are often lines coming off of Kokopelli’s head that remind some people of antenna; a flute playing insect.


Kokopelli is also one of the katchina figures-a masked dancer who chases the women while his wife Kokopelli-mana chases the boys. Some stories say that the hunched back is a sack and Kokopelli is a traveling salesman who plays flute to attract customers. Some say the sack is full of seeds, music or babies. Kokopelli is generally considered a fertility god (like nearly all mythic flute players). He often brings rain with him when he travels and helps crops grow. Some scholars say that the Kokopelli myths can be used to track the spread of maize or corn throughout the Americas. Katherine Hoover’s “Kokopeli” is a very popular piece for the concert flute (an instrument more often played by women than men) meant to represent Kokopelli as a leader of the migrations of the Native Americans.
What flute he plays is open to debate. The Native flute is held vertically which would match the rock art nicely. But archaeologists have also found several vertically held rim-blown flutes (no ducts) in the desert Southwest that would also fit the silhouette we see. These flutes are sometimes called Ancestor Pueblo or Anasazi flutes (Ancestor Pueblo is more polite, Anasazi is more widely used so knowing both is important). Again, they have a different scale than either the concert flute or the Native American flute and so have a different sound and tone.
Diatonic Pueblo/Anasazi Flute. Non-traditional scale and size but it gives you the idea.

In South American there are several different types of flutes. One is the quena that is held vertically. The quena is somewhat similar to the Pueblo flutes but smaller and with a scale closer to the concert flute. In the Andes today, travelers still sometimes play flutes to announce themselves and show they are peaceful as they travel from village to village. The panpipes and ocarinas also have been played in South America for ages. Europeans took the ocarina idea back over the ocean with them and now they can be found in a wide range of places. (I'll be doing more research on this instrument's history and myths later.)

Jabuti (various spellings) is sometimes the name of a character in folktales from the Amazon rain forest. He is a small tortoise who plays pranks on all the other creatures and usually outwits them, though (like most tricksters) he sometimes manages to outwit himself as well. In Gerald McDermott’s story, Jabuti plays a flute and makes the creatures in the jungle all dance and sing. When the birds go to sing for the King of Heaven, Jabuti wants to go and play his flute. Vulture (who is not happy with the sneaky turtle) offers to carry Jabuti to the sky but then drops him on his back, shattering Jabuti’s shell. The other birds help patch his shell back together (Humpty Dumpty could have learned a thing or two from this tortoise) and Jabuti lives to play music and tricks another day.
In other less Westernized stories, the flute playing tortoise is female and loves to dance. She often cons her way out of trouble or simply plays music to win others over to her side. The flute this character plays is not very well defined. Sometimes panpipes are pictured and other times a very general vertical flute is shown. I suspect her instrument choice changed depending on what flute was popular at the time.

Meanwhile, in the Brer Rabbit tales from North America, Brer Turtle uses Brer Vulture’s feathers to make “quill pipes” after tricking Brer Vulture out of some honey. Brer Fox hears the wonderful music and steals the pipes from Brer Turtle. Brer Turtle sneaks up on Brer Fox, bites and hangs onto his toe until Brer Fox gives the pipes back.
It is believed that both the Brer Rabbit and Jabuti/Tortoise tales have links to West African folktales, mixed with Native American stories that have taken on a life of their own.
The image of a turtle with a round shell playing a flute looks a great deal like the basic Kokopelli image to me though I know of no direct connection between the two.

Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales as told by Julius Lester
(a more recent version of the Brer Rabbit stories and my personal favorite)
Kokopelli: The Magic, Mirth and Mischief of an Ancient Symbol by Dennis Slifer

January 15, 2016

Program Notes

Everything you wanted to know about my music. Including how to find it.
Link to buy MP3s.
Link to buy physical CDs. 

Amaltheia's Lullaby-program notes-
In Greek Mythology, Amaltheia is a nymph or a goat who raised Zeus the God of thunder. Pan, half God half Goat, is the God of the wilderness. There are many different stories of Pan’s birth and antics. As the son of Amaltheia’s goat, Pan was raised in a cave with Zeus. Another story says Pan and Arcas were the twin sons of Zeus and Callisto a nymph who was changed into a bear. In yet another story, Pan helped Zeus after his sinews were stolen by the guardian of the sacred oracle at Delphi. Pan often plays a panpipe or a syrinx that can put anyone to sleep. A Labyrinth is a maze with only one path in and out. The version often seen in Crete, where Zeus and Pan were said to have been raised, has seven corridors.
The four notes F G C and E-flat are a call to Pan according to some. All the pieces on this album relate to these notes.

Waking the Devas-program notes-
A while ago, a friend of mine was telling me about her new garden. It was in the country across the road from a forest. It made her happy just seeing it. It overflowed with life as if little spirits were peeping out around the tomatoes, morning glories and grass. Even the bugs that ate plants down to the ground had a magic to them although that didn’t make them less of a nuisance. The garden became a nursery for nature devas, a safe place for them to gain strength as they step, roll and rush out into the world. This got me thinking about waking the devas, fairies, nature spirits in the world around us. Drawing them into the cracks in our lives and letting them run wild. Messy sometimes but more than worth it for all the joy they bring.

Link to buy MP3s.
Link to buy physical CDs.