OAKHURST – One legend says the native flute was a fanciful fluke of nature. Woodpeckers in search of termites pecked holes in a hollow branch. Wind blew across the top of the branch and melodious sounds grew in its wake.
There are many stories about how man and woman came to play the native flute, and this weekend we have the chance to learn everything we want to know about flutes, and a little bit about drums, as the renowned Yosemite Flute and Art Festival World Music Event comes to Sierra Sky Ranch this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21-23.Vendors, workshops and performances are the hallmark of this weekend’s festival, now in its fifth year. Native flute festivals on a large and well organized scale have been going on for about more than a decade, according to Stephen de Ruby, and this local gathering is one of the best in the whole country.
Stephen de Ruby is a life-long musician who plays (with friends) on Friday at 7 p.m. He first started strumming the guitar around age 13. For a long time he was into folk music, until he switched to sort of new age with flutes and guitar.
He’s a masterful craftsman, too. For the last 22 years has been creating lovely wood flutes with beautiful sounds that are nice and easy to play. Stephen is local, and says some great flute makers are coming across the U.S. for the three-day festival event, with only a $5 entrance fee that covers all three days.
Also on the stage Friday night will be Rona Yellow Robe and Joe Young. At noon Saturday, there’s an infamous drum circle and later Al Hollinger, Randy Granger and Mary Youngblood will take the stage. The festival is sponsored by Native American Flute Portal and the Flute Portal Forums, along with the Positive Living Centers of Central CA.
Workshops include Making Moyo Magic (moyo is a drum), Chords for Flute Players and Playing the Blues, along with beginning and intermediate workshops on Sunday for anyone who is suddenly enchanted, buys a flute and wants a little help to play. The workshops cost extra, so check out the website for details.
You’ll also see unique artsy stuff, a silent auction (Danger, Will Robinson!) and partake in deliciousness from the garden, perhaps including the grape.
Like artists and musicians, native flutes come in all kinds, with different pitches, “flavors” and shapes, made in a wealth of individual ways. The mouthpiece is special, along with the block, or totem, on top. The totem could be an owl or dolphin, for instance. A flute may be decorated, plain, or have inlays. The sound and tone quality varies, depending on the makers, and a lot of little nuances that can be taken in by the trained and listening ear.
Many visitors to the festival will be collectors, some of whom have, perhaps, a hundred flutes. From a musical standpoint, one wants a flute that plays and responds well. The first time de Ruby heard a native flute was decades ago, when he hung out with another musician who was, at the time, prohibited from speaking due to having healing nodules on his vocal cords.
The guy couldn’t talk, so instead, to express himself, he played the flute. Stephen heard it, fell in love with the sound immediately, got hold of a flute and took it into the woods where he played it all day long, enraptured.
In a musical composition without words, the flute can stand in for voice and fill in certain melody lines. Stephen says the flute speaks to the heart, and if you’ve heard and felt the sounds of native flutes you know there’s a powerful spiritual feeling about the instrument.
The Yosemite Flute Festival will be full of great music, with performances day and evening, on the historic and charming grounds of Sierra Sky Ranch, a really great venue for this super fun weekend happening.
Vendors will have arts and crafts for sale and daytime workshops on playing the flute take place throughout. This could be your chance to pick up something new (or someone new… there is a certain magic in the air) or just walk around and give your eyes and ears a party.