Just playing my flute
I'm the master of nothing
Hollow, empty space
I breathe all that is
my flute alive with music
particles to waves
The tone of the flute player
Brings my heart to peace
Lovely One, come home with me.
Mary Munarin: Stephen, I know you sang and played guitar for many years. How did you then become drawn to the Native American flute?
Stephen DeRuby: In the ‘70s, I was fortunate to work as a folk singer in beautiful Santa Fe, NM. While there, my interest in Native American arts and culture became a great source of inspiration. The first time I heard the Native American Flute was in Taos in the ‘70s. A Taos Pueblo man at the annual poetry jam played a quiet, breathy, sweet song. The seed was planted. The next time I heard the Native American Flute, 10 years later, would become a life changing event. At a Medicine Wheel Shamanic workshop at Esalen, Big Sur, CA, my friend Bob Edgar played his newly acquired cedar flute. Wow . . . I was smitten, on fire, and had to have one. After the workshop I drove directly to the maker of Bob's flute, Tom White Eagle. I would have driven to the ends of the earth but fortunately he was only 5 hours away. I spent the next 10 days in the Muir Woods playing my cedar flute. I went home and into my shop to make my first flute . . . and it played!
Mary: So it was kind of a “thunder took the toad” experience?
Stephen: (Laughing) Yes, you could say that. The Native American Flute called up something ancient in me. It was as if an old companion and soul mate had come home. Mystified by the sound, I wanted to devote my time to making and playing flutes. I've always loved working with my hands. It's my therapy and my meditation. When I first started making flutes, I wondered if I could actually earn a living at it. However, I had learned that whenever I felt such passion for something, support would come. Twenty years on, I'm so grateful for all the people whose lives I’ve touched with this simple instrument. I continue to be inspired by their stories and appreciation. I feel so fortunate to be on this path. It is called "right livelihood," i.e., earning one's living in a righteous way.
Mary: For you, then, it’s all about the impact your flutes have had on others.
Stephen: Yes. For example, my good flute friend Steve Carney works with high-risk children. Most of them are in gangs, using drugs and alcohol. Some have been convicted of felony crimes. We have been introducing the Native American Flute to them. The response is amazing. Their classroom behavior changes immediately and they actually want to practice. The atmosphere seems to soften when there is a flute player nearby. It brings out the best in people. The flute speaks a universal language across all cultural boundaries. It takes us beyond words and mental chatter. It helps to get us to that place of well-being, balance, and connection.
Mary: I hear that when I listen to your music.
Stephen: Whether I'm making or playing the flute, my heart's intention flows into it. Music comes through my breath and hands, these are the extensions of my heart. I want to feel and be felt, to make my presence known in this brief time on earth.
Mary: As a flute maker you have a reputation for consistent tone and pitch. To what do you attribute that?
Stephen: Time. Making a good flute takes time. Hawk Littlejohn once told me, "The tree needs a little time to figure out that it's becoming a flute." I'm careful not to rush through any of the procedures. I stay mindful each step of the way. Check and recheck. Even when I'm not making them, I'm often considering my next approach. Tone is a powerful element in music and life. Here's a Haiku flute poem I wrote:
Mary: You've created innovations such as the Deep Mystic Flute with EZ-Reach and now the EZ-Anasazi Flute. How did the EZ- come about?
Stephen: I love to experiment in the creative process. In my twenty years of making and studying world flutes, I've been fascinated by the variety of fipple styles and their particular tones. I've always loved the sound of rim-blown flutes but found them very challenging to play. I wanted to create that sound with an easier mouthpiece. Over the years I've had many "back-burner" experiments. Consistent quality was an issue. With the recent popularity of Anasazi flute replicas, I wondered if I could develop an easier version that still had that rim-blown sound. So I went into my place of inspiration and asked for guidance, and an elegant design came through. It has the air-splitting edge of a rim-blown with an air-slot above it. Eureka! I am elated with the design! It has brought joy to many. It's a good example of the breakthrough that can happen when you stick with something long enough.
Mary: I know that some Anasazi flute makers dismiss your EZ-Anasazi Flute and other innovative designs as not "traditional." This amuses me, since modern flute makers have given us a standard scale that, while serendipitous, is certainly not traditional. Not to mention the many styles of mouthpieces we see, which also would not be recognized by earlier Native American flute makers. Instruments do change over time, as people discover better or easier or simply interesting variations on the original.
Stephen: The EZ-Anasazi flute has been called a "mutant." Definition: A sudden change resulting from generations of gradual change. I like that. It's certainly a tipping point in my flute development. Most replicas of the original Anasazi Flute are already variations on the originals. For instance, the blowing edge on the replicas usually have a version of the Shakuhachi or Quena flute notch. Flute makers do tinker. We call them Anasazi flutes to indicate the similar scale and sound of the Ancient Anasazi Flute. The "traditional" or original Anasazi flutes were made with stone tools and made by Pueblo dwellers whose name, by the way, wasn't really Anasazi. Cool word, though. Names are not the thing itself.
Mary: The mouthpiece is a joy for the embouchure-challenged. It looks deceptively simple, but I assume it’s vital to achieving the husky sound.
Stephen: Yes, getting that sound requires a methodical and exacting level of skill. You can see that the mouthpiece has within it the shape (notch) of a rim-blown. Making the EZ- mouthpiece alone takes longer than making an entire rim-blown flute. Fipples are fascinating, too. Angles, shapes, sizes have such a broad effect on the character of tone. I've also applied techniques to make the holes closer together. The result is a lot less effort for the player.
Mary: That’s a second advantage of your EZ- flutes that I really appreciate, the closer holes. As a player with typically girly arms and hands, these flutes fit me.
Stephen: The effort and challenge of a rim-blown are good things, but sometimes you just want to relax and breathe into those deep tones.
Stephen: Listen closely and get inside the subtle layers of tone and personality. That is when the flute is playing you. A torrent of compressed air molecules being split and becoming tone. It is a microcosmic storm of spirit (breath) and matter (wood). That storm of particles and waves rushes down the barrel of flute and the longer the journey, the deeper the sound. It remarkably evokes a plethora of visions and feelings in us all. When we get to the place of inner peace, the body's natural healing ability kicks in. Inner peace is most important. If we look at the basic reason for all our actions, it is to feel good. I have found that one of the best ways to feel good is to bring joy and inspiration to others. It stokes my creative fire. I make personal choices based on what most supports the creative process.
Mary: What’s next in that creative process?
Stephen: On my previous CD's, I have played all the instruments. My upcoming one, by contrast, is an exciting project that includes some exceptional studio musicians on acoustic instruments. The compositions are exotic and seductive. On the flute front, the EZ-Shakuhachi Flute is coming shortly, to be followed by a contrabass F# drone with EZ-Reach. After that . .
Mary: (Laughing) Well, Stephen, I see that you’re off into your creative space again. Any last words for us?
Stephen: I’ll close with two more of my flute inspired, Haiku poems:
Stephen DeRuby interviewed by Mary Munarin for Voice of the Wind magazine
Stephen DeRuby, who makes his home near Yosemite in California, has been a musician since his childhood in the ‘50s and on a spiritual-healing path since the ‘70s. He is known as a maker of Native American style flutes of consistent quality and tone. In recent years, he has experimented with alternate designs that expand the flute experience and make it easier for players to enjoy the types of sounds previously available only on challenging rim-blown flutes. A ramble around his website, www.deruby.com, turns up any number of interesting items, including a percussion-background CD, an instruction book, flute CDs, and various flutes and hybrids including my personal favorite, the EZ Anasazi Flute.
HAWK LITTLEJOHN (1941-2000)
Cherokee Medicine Man, Spiritual Leader and Flute Maker
Gentle, wise, funny, generous, intimate, soft spoken
"Playing the flute is like prayer"
My heart was deeply touched by this man.
My work imbued with his spirit.
I have over 50 years experience as a craftsman and musician in the creation of excellent flutes with beautiful tones that are easy to play. Flutes that are worthy of the sacred tree from whence they came.
I am grateful for all the people whose lives and hearts are profoundly touched by these simple instruments.
Join in the fun and play your heartsong. Make a joyful noise ! Play for peace...play more.
the Wounded Musician and the River of Grace by Stephen DeRuby as published in Ezine Articles
First let me ask: What has heart and meaning for you? What touches you most deeply?
For many of us, music might have something to do with that.
Music is one of the ways in which we say: "I am alive, and my life has meaning." Karl Paulnack
Music is in us and waiting to be expressed. Every cell vibrates, grows and evolves with sound. The rhythms of our heart, our breath and entire being is harmonized through the power of music. It is one of the purest expressions of Spirit into Form. The musician is more of a therapist of the soul than an entertainer. Music is more than just a product or thing to be bought and sold like a used car. It is a rescue mission of mercy to bring our insides back into harmony. Music expresses our deepest feelings. It lifts us up and out of our pain and into the river of grace. It is the companion of bliss and grief.
In the darkest hours of our human history the most moving and profound music has arisen. One of the first organized events after 9/11 in New York City was the Brahms Requiem at the Lincoln Center with the N.Y. Philharmonic.
"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." Aldous Huxley
However...many of us have some musical wounds. Personally, I hit a bump on my musical journey in 1980. I worked a career musician for many years. Playing the same songs and musical style every night no longer inspired me. I felt a need for a new form of expression and I didn't know what creative direction to take. Then came nodules on my vocal cords which put an abrupt end to my singing career. This loss initiated a nine year path of becoming a Holistic Health Practitioner and Teacher. While I was studying the healing modalities of indigenous peoples I discovered the Native American Flute, drums and rattles. This was the new form of musical expression I was looking for 9 years earlier! I recovered my musical inspiration through these primal, ancient instruments.
I've met many people who have some musical bumps and bruises. For instance: Some of you will recall those traumatic, forced music lessons. Or maybe you played an instrument and were told you weren't "talented". So you gave up, never to try again. Does your inner critic beat you down, comparing yourself with the "pros"? Well, the good news is that we are the vessel and conduit that contains the Music of Life itself ! Remember, we are the Music.
So...how do we heal the split from our Musical Essence? I have known so many people, like myself, reconnect and find their inspiration through the Native American Flute. In a complex world, its simplicity, ease of playing and heartfelt tones heals us. It calls us back to our nature and to Mother Nature. Through the sacred and intimate act of breath and emotion, we express ourselves in waves of vibrant creation.
"I am a Flute that Spirit's breath moves through...listen to this Music" Hafiz
More important than how "good" you are is to ENJOY the act of playing. Through play, we open the doorway to our own creativity and spirit. "For heights and depths no words can reach, music is the soul's own speech!"