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Cultural Biodiversity: finding a sense of place

This article was written by Brendyn Montgomery in 2004 for the quarterly Flute Focus magazine (now an online publication) and is reproduced here with the permission of Flute Focus and Brendyn Montgomery.

Cultural Biodiversity: finding a sense of place

I sometimes wonder what led me to this place. I am an Irish flute player with a BSc in Zoology and an M.A. in traditional Irish music performance (1st class honours) and I have lived in Ireland. Yet I am a New Zealander. Brendyn MontgomeryI was born here, my parents were born here, and in fact, five generations of my relatives proceed me in this land…

My music does not come directly from my extended family as a neatly handed-down package as it so often does in Ireland. Irish has such a strong oral tradition in its homeland, where people live and breathe the music everyday. I live in a country where the society has evolved hugely from the societies that my ancestors left. The demise of the family unit and the freedom to choose your own path that has been slower to change in Ireland and Scotland, the countries of my ancestry. I am not against this change by any means; it simply means that many of the threads of the oral tradition have been broken.

Yet I am certain that the immigrants brought their music with them. My mother’s mother talks of how they played for dances from an early age, tunes that were handed down from the wider family. But that was lost as the family moved away to different parts of the country. I was bought up with both recorded and live music and was dragged to folk festivals from the age of six weeks. It is something I have grown to appreciate with time. This was not family music, but folk music of the 1970s and 1980s, influenced by technology and recordings from other parts of the world.


The Wooden Flute In New Zealand

This article was written by Pat Higgins in 2004 for the quarterly Flute Focus magazine (now an online publication) and is reproduced here with the permission of Flute Focus and Pat Higgins.

The Wooden Flute in New Zealand

Pat Higgins playing a nineteenth century Rudall & Carte fluteThe simple-system wooden flute has been relatively rare in New Zealand; and in comparison to the Boehm instrument, it still is unusual. However, in recent years we have seen a steady growth in interest in this instrument. It used to be that people would say, “but that’s not a flute… ” on seeing a wooden instrument, obviously expecting the Boehm instrument familiar to thousands from school music classes. The increase in numbers of people becoming interested in and playing this instrument has come about as people became exposed to the sound of the wooden flute as part of the enormous world-wide surge in interest in Irish culture over the last ten years or so. (Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, Guinness Tours of New Zealand, etc…)

The wooden simple system flute [also known as Irish flutes] is used almost exclusively for Irish traditional music, (though there may be professional musicians using it for classical performance, as is the case overseas). The author is aware of one musician in Wellington, Barnard Wells, who uses the simple system flute for playing Cuban and Latin music in a band situation. In nineteenth century Ireland, traditional music survived amongst the poor and impoverished; the classical music of the drawing room being the preserve of the rich. In 1831 Theobald Boehm invented his metal flute and sometime after, the wooden instruments it replaced gradually became un-fashionable; thus becoming affordable or at least more available to ‘folk-musicians’. It is not known (at least to the author) when exactly this occurred, but the transition must have been slow as classical musicians would have had to re-learn a whole new fingering system. In any case Irish traditional music formally played on pipes, fiddle and whistle could now also be played on the simple system eight-key wooden flute.


Music and Meditation

“Music transcends the barriers of nations, nationalities and religions. It is through music that the universal feeling of oneness can be achieved in the twinkling of an eye.”
    – Sri Chinmoy.

Have you ever wondered about the realm of spirituality and consciousness and intuition while playing or performing on a musical instrument and pondered on how to get in touch with these capacities more easily? It’s that lovely realm that we sometimes access when we go beyond technique and mind and become one with the music itself, as though we ourselves are an instrument and some beauty that is not our own is flowing through us. Athletes call it ‘being in the zone’ – a rapture of pure consciousness when the mind is free of all thought, constraint, self-consciousness and everything we do flows from some deeper part of our being. The ego ‘I’ that separates musician from music has gone and we have become the music itself.

The artist Paul Klee compared the artist-performer to a tree and wrote,

“From the root, the sap rises up into the artist, flows through him, flows to his eye. Overwhelmed and activated by the force of the current, he conveys his vision into his work. And yet, standing at his appointed place as the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what rises from the depths. He neither serves nor commands – he transmits. His position is humble. And the beauty at the crown is not his own; it has merely passed through him.”

How can we gain access to this intuitive and deeper part of our being? Meditation is the easiest way that I know. This is the process where we learn to cultivate an absolute stillness in our mind and body and by gradually mastering any one of a number of possible techniques such as concentrating our awareness on our breath, we can enter into a much deeper and more intuitive part of our being.

My own interest in meditation was greatly heightened when in the mid 1980’s I attended a free concert featuring the musician-composer and renowned spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. It was at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York city and I had heard much of Sri Chinmoy’s music from a pianist friend.


Tibetan Bowls: A Unique Experience

By Utsahi Nérée St-Amand

Tibetan Singing BowlWhen I first heard the sound of a Tibetan bowl, some 25 years ago, I was truly amazed! I could not believe that the sounds coming out of these little bowls could be so haunting and so powerful, yet so pure and simple. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to understand that the different metals they are composed of can produce such an array of tones (called harmonics).

Vibrations produced by Tibetan Bowls (also called singing bowls or healing bowls) are unique, elevating and healing. Singing bowls have the reputation of aligning our chakras, healing our energy centres, reducing stress, providing pain relief. They are also of tremendous assistance in our daily life of yoga and meditation.


Gandharva Loka’s Vajin Armstrong wins the Kepler Challenge

ShardulThose who have visited Gandharva Loka over the past few days may have noticed a new face behind the counter. That would be me – Shardul, a keen flute player and music lover. While I do not have a great knowledge of the many wonderful instruments that are available in the store, I have been learning on the job and it has been an inspiring opportunity and challenge. A lovely aspect about working at Gandharva Loka is that the people who come into the store generally derive and express great joy at the wide variety of instruments which represent so many of the world’s cultures. It is a happy space to be in.

Vajin Armstrong running the Kepler Challenge 2010The reason I was fronting Gandharva Loka is that the managers of the store, Vajin and Prasasta Armstrong, were away following up opportunities and challenges of their own. As is mentioned on this website’s meet the team page, both Vajin and Prasasta are athletes. This past Saturday Vajin competed in New Zealand’s premier off-road mountain race, the Kepler Challenge – with Prasasta playing the all important role of support crew. Not only did Vajin finish the tough 60 km mountain race, he also won it with a very respectable time of 5.03.27. (Tramping the Kepler track with a pack takes most people three days or more!) I think Vajin’s win surprised a few people because first-timers do not usually win the Kepler Challenge. The course record is 4.37.41 which was set by Phil Costley in 2005.

The race begins with a steep 15 km climb that often takes its toll on the runners. Following that, the downhill and switchback nature of the trail demands great concentration, stamina and technical prowess – mistakes can cause disaster. Reflecting the nature of the race, Vajin’s path to the Kepler Challenge was not all straight lines and tail winds. It all began when he failed to obtain online entry into the race due to the website being overwhelmed with applicants. Entry to this very popular race is limited as it is held on Department of Conservation land and it is a case of first in, first served. This from The Southland Times:


Jack Johnson Visits Gandharva Loka

We get all sorts of people dropping into Gandharva Loka. Some of our visitors have never come across such a shop before; some are curious and just browsing; others know exactly what they want – but in general everyone that comes into Gandharva Loka is happy to find us and delighted to see such a vast array of instruments from all over the world. They are inspired by the idea of music in so many forms and this in turn inspires those of us that work at Gandharva Loka. We are always grateful for the comments, encouragement and feedback from our visitors, customers and friends as we really feel that we are here to inspire and serve the joyful reality of music making. Music is, after all, humanities universal language.

Jack Johnson at Gandharva Loka in ChristchurchOn Monday afternoon we were delighted when Jack Johnson and his band came through the door – a nice surprise as Jack Johnson’s music and ethos have always been of inspiration to us. Jack has been in New Zealand with his To The Sea tour offering concerts in New Plymouth, Christchurch and Auckland. After his concert in Auckland tonight, he will be heading to Australia and then to Japan.

Jack hung out at Gandharva Loka for a while with his friend and band member Zach Gill trying out various instruments and looking for some gifts for their children. Jack told us that there is plenty of music in the house now that the children are beginning to grow and become interested in music. It would be hard to imagine not being influenced toward music (and the ocean) when your father is Jack Johnson, but it is always good to see parents leading by example and encouraging the youngsters.


Inspired Insights on Music from Elizabeth Petcu

Elizabeth PetcuElizabeth Petcu is a distinguished flute player who held the position of Principal Flute with the Radio Telefís Éireann Concert Orchestra of Ireland for over 25 years. A native of Bray in County Wicklow, Ireland, Elizabeth has a Masters degree in music therapy. Since her early retirement in 2006 due to advancing hearing loss, Elizabeth has been working for a diploma in Fine Art, often exhibits her ceramics, paintings and drawings and performs with the three piece music ensemble Rune and with her husband Mircea who is an accomplished violinist. In 2008 Elizabeth released Just Me, a solo album of flute music, which captures in essence Elizabeth’s true authentic sound through a brilliant interpretation of her favourite repertoire.

We are honoured and grateful to present Elizabeth Petcu’s inspired and insightful article on music.

From What to How – a paradigm shift

By Elizabeth Petcu

What does music mean is a perennial question and one raised by my music professor, Dr. Brian Boydell, at Trinity College Dublin many years ago. We never found a satisfactory answer. We never found an answer to suit everyone.

Twenty years later, as a music therapy student at the University of Limerick, we asked the same question, differently: How does music mean?

Changing a small word seemed to me to be the key to the answer and I then realised that the What question could never be solved.

For me, music does not exist on the written page or in the human memory alone but relies on a two-way process for its life: musician and listener. How does music mean includes the player’s intent – the message, that extra bit which is essential to the experience of any live, in the moment, performance.