Coyote Oldman flutist shares his love of the instrument
Michael Graham Allen will perform a free concert at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 23, at The Homestead, 700 Hometead Drive in Midway. For information, visit solsticeflutefest.com.
When the sun sets on this year’s Summer Solstice Flute School and Festival on Friday, the music will continue Saturday night thanks to Michael Graham Allen.
The flutist who plays Native American music is known for his band Coyote Oldman. He will perform a free community concert at 6:30 p.m. at The Homestead in Midway. He will be joined by Shelley Morningsong and her husband Fabian Fontenelle.
Allen, who has also worked with Grammy-nominated contemporary instrumentalist David Lanz, will showcase his musicality on his hand-made Pueblo (of the ancestral Puebloan culture, formerly known as Anasazi) Mojave and Hopi flutes.
The musician said he’s been building flutes ever since he was a child.
“I first built bamboo flutes and got interested in the physics of the instrument,” Allen said. “I thought it was fascinating to go out into the woods and make these instruments, and even though I spent a lot of time making terrible flutes, it was quite exciting to me.”
As his craftsmanship progressed, Allen began making Irish and Japanese flutes. During his early adulthood, he started building replicas of the Pueblo flute.
“I visited a museum in Oklahoma and saw flutes in a Kiowa peacepipe collection,” Allen said. “The people at the museum weren’t aware that the items were flutes until I told them.”
The museum’s director allowed Allen to hold the flutes and measure them.
“That’s when I started to hit all the museums I was able to, so I could do some drawings and make my own Anasazi flutes,” he said. “I liked that these kinds of flutes were rare, and no one really knew about them back then.”
The Pueblo flutes caught Allen’s attention because they were 800 to 1,200 years old.
“These flutes are found in burial areas and buildings from the Four Corners area,” he said. “They are a less common artifact than pottery and tools.”
Most people who are familiar with Native American flutes usually think of the instruments that were made in the 1800s, according to Allen.
“That’s when two cultures — Native and European — began to hybridize their ideas,” Allen said. “I think that’s why I liked that these kinds of flutes were rare, and no one really knew about them back then.”
Allen’s flute designs have evolved over the years.
“I began to see how I could change the instrument without changing its basic scale,” he said. “I did this because I wanted to give them a more melodic tuning.”
Still, Allen makes his instruments with historically accurate materials.
“The original flutes were made from spit cedar or split softwood,” he said. “Some flutes were made from elderberry stalks.”
Allen enjoys playing his flutes today for the joy of sharing his love of the instrument with audiences. He also said his collaborations with other musicians allow him to explore his own creativity.
“I’m not here on a big quest for humanity, but it’s nice to do things that people can enjoy,” he said. “In reality, the important work has already been done by archaeologists who found these things and preserved them in museums.”
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