Jeff Ball and I were talking today, discussing the Flute Portal among other things, and we were reflecting on how we used to talk about it as a concept, how that concept took form and actually became something concrete. The idea of what this site was supposed to be evolved a great deal before it was launched in the Fall of 2006, and that concept has kept changing.
An interesting aspect of this evolution was the name of the site. We ended up calling it The Native American Flute Portal, but this was not the original name–it was originally called The Flute Portal. That is why the domain name is www.fluteportal.com–it is a broader, more inclusive name. On a personal level, I wanted to attract people from all walks of life and from various background who shared a common interest: the flute. Not just the North American block flute, but all kinds of flutes from all around the world.
The decision to change the name to the Native American Flute Portal had more to do with gravity. We were both deeply involved in the world of the NAF and it seemed sensible at the time to use that as a point of departure because for a fledgling website to grow wings, it needed to be fed. The food for this site was the participation of the members, so it seemed logical to interest the people who we knew best: NAF enthusiasts.
To our delight, the site became a focal point for many people in the NAF community, and this was accentuated by the addition of the discussion forums. Now the site was dynamic and alive! Over the last 16 months it has grown significantly, and the diversity of the membership has grown with it.
As the Administrator of the site, there has been a challenging aspect to accommodating this growth, namely: How best to serve the needs of the community and continue to be true to the vision of what we wanted the site to become? This has proven to be trickier than I thought it would be and the site has experienced some growing pains along the way.
One of the most significant changes that has come about recently is that in pursuit of my Admin duties I have found myself walking a philosophical tightrope on a few occasions regarding issues related to the native peoples of this country. I suppose it is inevitable that if you have a website called The Native American Flute Portal, then you are creating the space for interpretation of that name. Where does one place the emphasis? Is it The Native American Flute Portal? or The Native American Flute Portal?
From the beginning, this site was meant to be about flutes. Flute music, flute playing, flute making. As has been mentioned in numerous threads in the forums, one cannot really talk about an instrument without some talk about it’s history or even it’s etymology, but where does one draw the line? Lately I’ve been having more Admin work that is related to keeping the site “topical” (i.e. focused on the original subject of the site: the flute). Perhaps this is inevitable given the name of this site and given the natural tastes and inclinations of many of the members as a result of their common interest in native music, culture, history, etc..
The other inevitable aspect of this interest is that the many facets of this history are opened for examination, and as any student of history knows this can be a journey into dark places. The history of this country is pretty bloody–most thinking people recognize that– and a lot of that blood is native blood. So when the NAF is being discussed, for many people it is impossible to separate it from this history for the purpose of the discussion. While this is totally understandable, it also creates a serious dilemma for me as the Administrator. Experience has taught me that the public forums that are nice places to be (and I’ve looked around at other forums on the internet–I belong to several others) stay away from politics and religion. Much of the history of this country as it relates to the native peoples is a history of politics. It is not a pretty history and some of the politics were of the worst type practiced by humans. This political history is a deeply sensitive subject for many people, both native and non-native, and just like any strongly held conviction, it can be the breeding ground for strife.
Nothing gets people rattled like talking politics and religion with someone whose beliefs do not harmonize with their own. This reaction can be the catalyst for resentment, negativity and (in extreme cases) insults or disrespect. It is not a given that this is where it always leads, but the potential is there and that is the rationale behind forbidding subject matter that can be interpreted as political or religious.
Therein lies the dilemma. For a number of the members of this site, talking about the NAF without talking about the darker aspects of its history doesn’t make sense. They cannot comfortably imagine a thing taken out of it’s context like that. I understand them and I don’t blame them. But at the same time, the creation and maintenance of a special interest forum (such as a site dedicated to flutes) does not allow for that sort of content–content that can be a trailhead to a further discussion of politics, current policy or past grievances. For the site to maintain a comfortable temperature for all participants it is necessary to moderate the atmosphere a bit. For some this will mean that the site is insipid or boring–not providing enough scope or interest. I have yet to figure out a way to both allow total freedom of discussion and to avoid alienating too many members by allowing the conditions that can lead to volatile discussions.
This dilemma is what lead me full circle to a contemplation of the origin of this website and what it’s original intent was. By naming it the Native American Flute Portal, we inadvertently weakened the foundation of our original intent by narrowing the site. Not only did we narrow it’s content, we did so with a title that carries a lot of different meaning to different people. Calling a site “Native American” anything creates a premise– cuts a groove for that concept to run in. It can be a pathway to something we all love and simultaneously be a sunken road with no side turnings. Not because it is about the Native American flute, but because the name seems to indicate that this is all it is about.
That is why we are changing the name back to the original–we are going to rename the site The Flute Portal. Does this mean that it is no longer about the NAF? Of course not! Most of the people on this site favor the NAF as their primary interest–it is why they are here in the first place. But from watching the forums for more than a year, it became very clear to me that many of the members (possibly most of them) have cross-over interest in other flutes and woodwinds as well as drums, etc.. Making more room for that and encouraging members to branch out into these other areas seems more in tune with our original mission. Further, the more inclusive the site is, the more likely it is to bring that same cross-over interest from members of other “flute communities” (Shakuhachi players, Silver Flute players, Irish Flute, Fujara, Quena, Ney, Xiao, Dizi, Bansuri, etc., etc,.). These other instruments have their enthusiasts, many of whom would be enchanted by the Native American flute and who may never have seen or heard of one. They may come to The Flute Portal because of their particular interest and find that they have stumbled across a treasure trove of other musical opportunities.
I don’t imagine that by renaming the site we will suddenly manifest a population of World Flute enthusiasts (beyond those that are already here, of course) nor do I imagine that the bulk of the content of the site will suddenly stop being NAF related. I don’t expect that sort of thing to change, nor would I want it to.
Rather, what I would hope to achieve is a spaciousness–an openness that would allow it to be something more. At the same time changing the name brings the emphasis back onto the word “flute”. That was the core of our original intent. Speaking for myself, I love Native American music, I honor the diverse culture that birthed this particular flute and I hope and expect all of the people here who love this instrument will continue to carry the torch. No one needs to change their special relationship to this instrument. But I do want to clarify what this site can be and cannot be. I’ve long since learned that there is absolutely no way to please everyone, or meet their individual needs in the context of a site like this. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to balance it all and I’ve come to realize that some limits must exist. From a practical standpoint, the more open a site is in terms of content, the more Moderator and Admin participation is required, and we just don’t have resources for it. Thankfully, this site is populated by sensitive and considerate people, so that the amount of Moderator involvement is already below average.
As far as how this change will impact the structure of the site, well…it won’t be much. I’ll be adding some new forums and consolidating some others. Regardless of the changes that appear I want to reassure everyone that they will be changes of structure and not of substance. The site will not suddenly become different or foreign–many of the alterations might not even be readily apparent if they are not pointed out. I won’t be doing anything that will compromise the existing content or make it more difficult to navigate. It may take a bit to actually change the site header, but it will happen before too much time has passed.
So hopefully most of the membership will understand the reasoning behind this change. It will ideally be a milestone in the continued development of this website and encourage positive growth. The addition of the blogs was another step in opening up the site to more varied content. Being joined by World Flautists like Gary Stroutsos (and we hope to add to this roster) is a positive step in that direction.
So hang on to all of those t-shirts–they will soon be collectible!