Monday, July 21, 2008

Nakai, A Renaissance Man

R. Carlos Nakai, the person responsible for making the music of the Native American wooden flute popular, is a true Renaissance man.

I have had the pleasure of hearing him play in person as well as hearing his recordings and interviewing him. I liked the sound of the instrument so much that I got one and play it myself, not for public performances, simply for my own pleasure. The sound is so mellow and relaxing.

When you simply look at the range of his entire catalog of recordings, what you notice is that he not only plays traditional native melodies. He has recorded albums with symphony orchestras, chamber orchestras, rock bands, jazz bands, world music ensembles, collaborated with musicians from Tibet and China. I asked him why he did this and he said that he wanted to demonstrate to people that this simple folk instrument had a great deal of range and versatility and that just because it was simple it could still do as much as more sophisticated instruments.

He even designed a line of flutes made out of plastic so that school children could learn to play a simple instrument, and appreciate music in the same way that schools have long used plastic recorders.

His journey started ironically, with a car accident. He originally was training to play the coronet, when a wreck injured his face and his ability to play that instrument. Somehow his attention was drawn to the Native American wooden flute, and he traveled all over the continent looking for people who could teach him about this instrument and its uses. He says that at the time he began his search, he could only find three or four people who still played it and could teach him. Most of the Native people had forgotten about playing it.

Once people heard Nakai play, they were entranced and wanted to hear more. He has taught many other people to play in retreats and workshops, and he wrote the first instruction book for the instrument, which is now widely available.

He is a true Renaissance man in the world of music. From a simple beginning, he has made a profound impression on musicians, people who enjoy listening to music, and encouraging other people to make music. He has used his talents to do many good things in the world.

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