John Stillwell Blog

IMG 4523It sometimes seems to me that learning to play the Native American flute is more a matter of subtraction than addition. I don’t seem to be adding knowledge about how to play the flute. What I have been doing is subtracting all the faulty psychological programs that stand between me and freedom from fear. It is the fear of failure, of not doing it right, of what others may think that inhibits my playing. These fears keep me from allowing the flute to express itself in whatever way it chooses.

I intuit that these fears were implanted early in childhood. Unrealistic expectations. Demands to do it the right way. Testing and the fear of failure. These anxieties come between me and the freedom to play with absolute abandon. When due to some combination of intent and divine good fortune I enter the zone, playing becomes a truly creative experience. It is an experience where sounds I have never heard before are manifesting. And feelings that I seldom experience are rising to the surface.

Some of us will take our flute playing to places that others will not. This is natural and perfectly OK. Each of us has their own individual lessons to learn and songs to express. This diversity is what makes life so fascinating. How dull if we were all the same. Or how dull if we were all striving for the same goal. Perhaps there are an unlimited multitude of goals. Each one tailor made to allow the individual – you and me - to reach his fullest potential. If we let go of goals to be reached will we find that there are no goals? Will we find there are only roads to travel on? Are we each a traveler on one of an infinitely varied number of roads? With each road being a unique exploration of the evolving Universe of sound.

Why do we have to measure ourselves by some external standards of achievement? Is it not more enjoyable to simply let go and play with our flute.

I have noticed since I became involved in making Native American style flutes that I have a natural affinity with what is called 432 Hz tuning. Even before I became aware that there was such a thing as the lower 432 Hz tuning I felt a natural aversion to bringing my flutes up to the standard 440 Hz when I was tuning them. My ear and heart seemed to intuitively prefer the lower – some would say slightly flat – sound of a flute that was tuned around 432 Hz. When I discovered that others were also more comfortable with this slightly flatter sound I was relieved to know that I was not abnormal.

The tuning of musical instruments in western societies has, like most things in our highly regimented society, become standardize. The standard that has been established is 440 Hz for the note called A above the middle C on a piano. All the other notes are tuned in relationship to this A.

This standard of tuning is rather recent in origin having been established in the late 1800s and then formalized by the American Federation of Musicians in 1917. Around 1940 the United States introduced 440 Hz worldwide, and finally in 1953 it became the ISO 16 - standard.

Before 440Hz became the standard a variety of tunings were used.

A = 432 Hz, known as Verdi’s ‘A’ after the renowned composed Guiseppe Verdi who advocated for is use, is an alternative tuning standard that many propose as mathematically consistent with the natural vibrations of the physical universe. Music based on 432 Hz transmits; it is believed, beneficial healing energy because it is a pure tone of the math fundamental to nature.

According to Brian T Collins, a musician and researcher, the standard pitch (A=440 Hz) does not harmonize on any level that corresponds to cosmic movement, rhythm or natural vibration. The greatest musicians, such as Mozart and Verdi, based their music on the natural vibration of A = 432 Hz. It is believed that earlier composers such as Bach wrote for an even lower tuning.

I have discovered that there is a growing musical and metaphysical movement for recovering optimal integrity in the music industry and in spirituality through changing back to the 432 Hz tuning.

According to Richard Huisken, music tuned to 432 Hz is softer and brighter, giving greater clarity and is easier on the ears. Many people experience more meditative and relaxing states of body and mind when listening to such music. Researchers and musicians, such as Coreen Morsink (pianist and music teacher), report that they feel calmer, happier and more relaxed when playing music at 432 Hz.

It is believed that music based on this natural tone is more transparent, more marked, gives an obvious musical picture and the overtones and undertones moves more freely. Music based on 440 Hz represents stuffed emotions and blocked energy. By lowering the pitch by just 8 Hz, you become more flexible and spontaneous. It is said that the 432 tuning releases your energy and takes you into a beautiful state where relaxation is natural.

The 440 Hz tuning is well established and if you are going to be playing with other instrumentalists you should have a flute that is tuned to the 440 standard so that you are in harmony with the other instruments. However when you are playing solo as long as the flute is tuned to itself – that is consistent through the scale – it does not matter to what standard the flute is tuned you will sound fine.

The ultimate truth is in the individual flute players’ ear and heart. I encourage you to do your own research and learn about and listen to music in the 432 Hz tuning. If it appeals to you I can tune one of my Native American style flutes to 432 Hz for you. I think you will be pleased with the result.

We measure space by the six directions – North, South, East, West, Up and Down. We measure time in years, days, hours, minutes and seconds. With this mental construct we give order to the space-time continuum. We experience ourselves within space and time as a conscious awareness. I am. I am finds itself emanating form a material form we call the human body. This body, we now know, has taken billions of years to achieve its present configuration. We find ourselves to be a locus of experience within the form of a living, mobile, organic being capable of speculating on the source of its existence.

The Native American style flute song is constantly changing. The flute is discovering new pathways of sound through the confusion of life. Pathways that are clearer by far than anything I have ever experienced. Pathways that light the way to a better tomorrow. If the tone of the flute is sharp or flat relative to some artificial standard – what do I care? Do the birds care? How boring to be always the same. Let freedom ring and come out of the Native American style flute. May it reach into every crevice of conventionality. Not measuring or judging anything according to some external yardstick. Knowing, always, that every note is enough in all places and at all times. My flute song unique. And yours as well. Gently blowing forth creative notes into the unknown. Not expecting to hear that same sound again – perhaps ever. Letting our life unfold and our own music go out into it. Playing our part in the grand symphony of the Universe as it is continuously transforming and discovering itself anew. The music says that in spite of every dark cloud and feeling of pain there is I – the music – I help heal all discomfort.

I was listening to a Love flute CD that someone had sent me. It was an exuberant, openhearted expression of pure joy. To the discerning – might I say critical – mind it did not conform to the established standards of ‘good music’. But it’s limitations in that respect was more than compensated for by its enthusiasm. The Native American style flute is helping to liberate many of us from our habit of evaluating and criticizing everything. Especially as this behavior applies to self-criticism.

Why can’t we just relax and have fun? Why are we so hard on ourselves? The pervasive culture of correctness and perfection has taken the fun out of life. Playing the flute or expressing our selves in any way must be based on freedom from fear of criticism, especially self-criticism. Otherwise we’re perpetually caught in the spot light. It’s a spotlight where everyone is looking at us. And we feel that if we don’t do it right there will be a price to pay. Holding ourselves up to impossible standards or other people’s standards means that we are always setting ourselves up to fail. We live under a dark cloud of our own creation. Actually, we didn’t create it.