Monthly Archives: November 2017

Caught Between a Rock and a Flute

Well, I’ve got the headline. It’s catchy enough, at least if people get the reference to “rock and a hard place,” and it does say something reasonably accurate about my life.

So I guess I’ve got to write the post.

First, the part about the rock. The rock is actually a hand-polished slab of dark green jade which I bought as a 50th birthday present for a good friend with whom I practice qigong.

When I bought it, I held it and thought I could feel its energy, and my friend and the third member of our practice trio thought they could, too, so my friend has been bringing it to our practice sessions in my apartment.

She lays it on the floor in the center of our triangle, and at some point during our session, my cat will get up from her heated cat bed and come over to nuzzle the rock. She’ll stretch herself out and rub her head against it. Once she sat on it as if she hoped it might hatch.

Because she will not do this with any of the other rocks I have offered her, I have concluded that the rock does have some special energetic quality. In other words, qi is! Even in rocks!

Meanwhile, though I continue to practice taiji and qigong, my fervor has abated. This may be a good thing, at least for the sake of qigong, where wanting too much and trying too hard tend to bring a person very little. (Sigh. This is sadly true in many aspects of life, including interpersonal relationships. The needier you are, the less you get.)

But I digress.

The thing that has been intruding on my fervor and my “discretionary time” is learning to play the Native American-style flute. A man who makes these flutes, plays them and teaches others to play moved into the community where I live, and about a year ago I bought one from him and committed to learning to play it.

I wanted a musical voice, and since I can no longer sing—I can’t hold pitch, and singing hurts my throat—I liked the idea of being able to sing through an instrument. Native American flutes can produce achingly exquisite sound, and they are easier to make sound good than, say, a cello, which I would also love to be able to play. (This isn’t to say that it’s easy to play a Native American flute really well or that, after a year, I believe I play really well—but I’m about to the point that I really enjoy playing and like what I hear when I do.)

Nowadays, most Native American flutes have six holes and are tuned to a pentatonic minor key. You can play in other keys on, say, a G minor flute, but most likely you’ll want to get a number of flutes in different keys. A bass E flute is a very different instrument from, say, a high C flute, just as a tuba is different from a piccolo. The pitches are different, but so is the quality of the sound.

Which brings us to my newest flute, a D# minor contrabass. It is a very large flute—43 inches with a 1 and ¾-inch bore—and it has a very deep voice. It is also difficult to play, despite having the mouthpiece on the side instead of the end so that you can reach the sound holes, because the sound holes are large and far apart. I am only able to span and cover the holes, and that just barely, because it turns out that I have a peasant hand. My fingers aren’t particularly long, but they are sturdy, and, perhaps more important, my palms are broad.

I cannot play this D# minor flute lyrically, because it requires too much breath to connect very many notes, but it has great rhythmic and percussive potential. However, the best part is the strong, deep vibrations which I feel throughout my body as I hold the flute across my chest and play it. I have started creating pieces of songs that are based on playing the lowest, most rumbly note like a heartbeat, lub-dub, lub-dub, then leaving that note for a pattern of other notes but returning again, and again, lub-dub, lub-dub.

I may now just have two hobbies, qigong and flute, but I am liking to think, particularly as I explore this new flute, that in the end the energy of the sounds I produce and feel through playing flute will connect with the energy that I experience as qi when I do qigong.

…and with the energy my cat feels from the piece of jade.

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