Kokopelli’s Flute

I told one of friends not long ago I was done buying musical instruments for 2009 at least, and wanted to concentrate more on the playing of what I had, rather than expanding my musical horizons further afield.

Apparently, I lied.

The internet is a wonderous, expansive, horrible place. The collection of instruments that I have has provided me with a means to begin to really understand the concepts of musical scales, fundamental to playing most of them, and in that quest, I “found” another facet: the “North American Flute”. These are the modern interpretations of the oldest known form of musical instrument – the flute (some may argue about whistles or the drum, but not me). Culturally, they have wide variation – the so-called “indigenous peoples” of North America have their own versions.

Historically, one of the oldest known North American examples is the “Anasazi flute” of which only 4 are known to exist ( these are about 1200 years old, from Arizona. Other, different flutes, from more recent times have been found).

The Anasazi flute is thought to be the flute of Kokopelli,

the legendary rascally spirit of the Pueblan and Hopi Indians of the US Southwest. Musically they are in a minor pentatonic scale. The originals were tuned to a low B flat, and 28-30 inches in length. Modern versions are typically either low A or low A flat(G#). Makers have started to make B flat versions, in part because they are shorter and easier to finger. Devilish difficult to play apparently as they are a “rim-blown” flute (not like a whistle with a “fipple”), this Geoffrey Ellis interpretation will be mine when it arrives: (Update: arrived yesterday morning from California – 4 days in transit, including a customs look see- something of a record I think for me! Looks better in person even then it does in the pictures.)

This is what it sounds like when played by someone who can (Scott August, here). The two leading artists with this are Scott August and Michael Graham Allen.

The Anasazi extended scale

The historical decoration on the ancient flutes with its feather ring, detailed below, is considered to be ritualized and sacred, so is not put on modern equivalents, generally, although this preactise is by no means universal.