Welcome to my first blog entry, I’m honored to be representing world flutes in this great flute portal. I’ve not written blogs before, and to be honest, I haven’t even read any, but I’m eager to venture into this new world and am happy to share my world flutes journey with you.
To fill you in on how I got into all of these crazy and wonderful instruments (I have hundreds and perform and record regularly on dozens of them) — I’ll preface my story with the fact that I grew up (in Berkeley, CA) playing only classical music. First the piano, then the violin, and at the age of 10 chose the flute because it was small. No romantic story about hearing the flute wafting in my dreams or hearing the flute and knowing that was my destiny. Basically, I was tired of playing the screechy violin (my older sister also played and was so much better, and I did not want to be second fiddle in our household!!) — I wanted to go to music camp and needed to pick an instrument and wanted something that would fit in my back pack. voila.
Fortunately, I found I loved the flute and did well on it. (You can learn about the next years of my flute journey in an article I wrote for The Flutists Quarterly, it’s on my site http://www.suzanneteng.com.)
Long story short, after a very serious classical music education, I was about to launch my career while preparing for international competitions and living with my flute teacher. I was at the peak of my playing and then met an African drummer and was introduced to a world that so turned my world around, I realized that I had found a path that I needed to follow.
Years before I met Onye, I had been given a beautiful dizi while I was in Taiwan on a cultural studies program. In exchange for giving my dizi teacher in Taiwan some lessons on his silver flute, he took me on his motorcycle across Taipei to a music shop. The flute room had hundreds of flutes on display covering the walls. They were all beautifully ornate with tassles and engraved poems. He said I could pick any flute I wanted. The one I chose was calling out to me. It was simple and shiny with no decorations. This is the flute that I started my world flutes journey on. At Onye’s request, I started to improvise and discovered that I had a musical voice of my own. What an amazing feeling that was. I love playing Bach and Mozart, but wow, what an experience I had playing this bamboo flute.
So…moving on, I spent a year playing my flute with a group of African drummers. Fun! But I wanted to learn more and moved (from Boston) to Los Angeles to work on my Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from UCLA. I was now being exposed to so many incredible types of music from around the world and started to explore the Egyptian ney and the Indonesian suling. I ended up being a teacher for many years at Lark in the Morning Camp in Mendecino (northern California) where I was exposed to wonderful musicians and many many great instruments, I love to travel and I love to meet people from around the world. I think it’s the combination of these experiences that has lead me on such a full world music journey and it’s my hope that I can share my stories and my knowledge with you during these blogs.
I must run right now, but the next time I write, I’ll pick a few flutes to tell you about. I am not the world’s expert on any of these flutes, but I think I’ll be good at telling you a little about a lot of them.
Meanwhile, I’ve attached a file of “China Lily,” the first piece I wrote which developed out of my improvisations on my very special dizi. It’s a Chinese bamboo flute, has (or rather, had) a nice shiny varnish. It’s extra hole between the blow hole and first finger hole, traditionally covered with a very thin membrane of reed, is instead covered with scotch tape giving it a warmer less buzzy tone. I love this flute. I’m able to go to a very deep place when I play on it. It’s powerful, it’s soulful, it’s sweet. It’s got 6 finger holes and can play diatonically but I almost always choose to play a Chinese pentatonic scale (pitches 12456).
Take care, thanks for reading. Maybe I’ll see you at the upcoming Zion Flute and Drum Festival! (http://www.zionfluteanddrumfestival.com) May 14-16. My band MYSTIC JOURNEY is flying out from Los Angeles to play and we’re very excited about this show!
best to you,