Forbidden Fruit

2009 March 15

Forbidden Fruit

by Clint Goss, clint@goss.com, May 30, 2008

A friend of mine came to me with a problem. She is a solid intermediate Native Flute player and had taken a lesson with an experienced teacher. She had played one of her songs for him and upon hearing one particular note in her song, he advised her that she should never, ever play that note again. Ever.

“Why?” I asked. Her hesitant and jumbled response had the flavor of “wrongdoing” and “sinful”.

She went on to say that this incident had led her backwards down her path of growth on the Native Flute. She could barely play anything. What she could manage to play felt stiff and unnatural.

“Which note is it?” I was dying to find out. So she played a short passage, and stopped her breath just short of the forbidden note. But she had put her fingers down for the note, and I immediately knew which note it was!

I was brought up in a Roman Catholic environment, and I was taught early how to determine whether something is sinful. The first step is to check out the list of the seven deadly sins: pride, gluttony, sloth, lust, greed, envy, and anger.

I cannot imagine any musical note as being remotely gluttonous or slothful. And since this particular note would have been so beautiful in her song (if she had played it), anger and greed were immediately ruled out. Could the note make her playing so beautiful that she would be compelled to sins of pride or lust? If so, then playing in canyons, or with a grand piano, or a cello, or even with a reverb unit would certainly be more sinful than just this one note. So that leaves envy … hmmm … maybe the note was so beautiful it causes envy in others. However, unlike money or a Maserati, simply seeing the fingering when the note is played is enough for even a novice flute player to have their own beautiful version of the forbidden note.

Recently the Vatican has expanded the list of sins to include polluting, taking drugs, becoming obscenely rich, cloning, and “promoting social injustice”. Try as I might, I could not see how any note could be turned into these vices. Moving on to the Ten Commandments … the famous “Thou shall” and “Thou shall not” rules. It seems that it would be very hard for a simple musical note to violate any of them.

So what was going on here?

Most of us have grown up surrounded by the rigorous culture of western classical music traditions. This culture is full of opinions on how music should be played. Approval of a student’s musical performance is given or withheld based on how close a student comes to replicating the precise sequence of notes written down by a composer, and playing it the way it “should” be played. When the opinions of “should” and “ought” and “right” and “wrong” become too much, we lose the joy of the music and move onto something else that is fun.

In contrast, the people who introduced me to the Native Flute put music forth with no “should” or “ought” or “right” or “wrong”. There was only the encouragement to emulate a bird, or access the sounds that felt right in my heart. If I listened to the playing of others, I wanted to get that sound. If I wanted to play hard and fast, I went for it. If I felt like a humming into the flute, I hummed away. The “should” was replaced by a “want”.

Yes, there are social contracts we have with our neighbors. Blasting music out at 2AM with the amplifier turned up to the max is socially unacceptable. And blasting your own eardrums into deafness with headphones is likewise unacceptable.

But if you are within your reasonable sonic domain and not doing yourself any physical harm, then I believe it is your right to explore the music that is in your heart at that moment. Do what inspires you, follow your bliss, right now. If it’s playing Black Sabbath melodies on a 6-hole cedar flute, have at it. If you’re angry and your flute is within reach … put that angry passion into your music. You won’t regret it. Anything that brings our music closer to our emotions heals us and gives our emotions a voice. The magic of music is that it can carry emotions to our listeners like no other artistic medium.

After all this soul searching, I was no closer to actually helping my friend. Arguments of whether something qualifies as sinful or not simply do not hold the power that music itself holds. So I played her melody again, with the forbidden note, and it immediately struck me where I had heard the forbidden note before. It is the central, beautiful, heart-opening note played by one of the most central flute players in the central theme of the series “How the West Was Lost”. In minutes I brought up the sound track, extracted a short sample of the melody, and sent her a MP3
file.

I really do look forward to hearing her play the next time I see her.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Clint Goss has been facilitating Native Flute “Playshops” since 2003 when he was first invited to offer a session at the Flower Mound gathering. Since then, he and his wife, Vera, have facilitated Native Flute as well as general music workshops at the Omega Institute, FluteQuest, the Potomac Flute Festival, the Flute Fall-In, the Zion Canyon Art and Flute Festival, Immaculata University, the Stony Point Retreat Center, and Jeronimo’s Conference Center. For more information on Native Flute Playshops, visit www.ClintGoss.com.

6 Comments leave one →
2009 March 20
Dennis L permalink

Clint,

You’re never gonna tell us what that note was are ya?

2009 March 26
Desiree permalink

What is this forbidden note? The curiosity is tormenting me.

2009 March 31
Chaoha permalink

I would have a problem with anyone saying “you played a wrong note” on a song that I composed. It could not be justified to me. My feeling is if we compose a song it’s not just “made up”, it is gifted to us in one way or another, and the “One” who gifted it to us would not steer us into playing a forbidden note….. if there is such a thing.

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