Are these flutes hard to play?
Well, if you’re looking for immediate gratification, then these might not be the best instruments for you. Then again, there are not many instruments I can think of that you can play with any proficiency without the requisite time and effort. Oh, sure some people might pick it up faster than others, but if you stick with it and practice a little everyday, these instruments are a real blast. In order to improve, you really have to want to play, you have to make an effort to practice routinely. I tell people they have to start with 10 minutes a day, not 10 minutes every two weeks.
How is the Kena different from the native American flute?
The native-american flute is a fipple flute. A fipple is the device that takes the air being blown into the flute and directs it over a notch. The same action happens when blowing into a whistle. The recorder is an example of a fipple flute and so is the Irish penny-whistle. The Kena is a flute with nothing more than a notch at the end of it. You have to direct air over the notch using your lips and mouth (embouchure). The same technique is required to play the side-blown flute (silver flute). The Kena requires a lot of practice just to get a sound, whereas the Native American flute requires only that you blow into the fipple.
What’s the advantage?
The Kena is tuned to a Major Key (usually G) and has a range of almost three full octaves. The Native American Flute is limited to one octave and the scale is usually pentatonic. The Kena can be played in different keys by using sharps and flats. Also, the Kena is a much louder instrument, making it easier to mic and play with other musical instruments. The breathy, ethereal sound evoked by the Kena is typical of end-blown flutes. The downside is that it is not a forgiving instrument. You cannot just pick it up and play without doing your homework! However, when you do finally get the embouchure, it is fun to watch other people try to blow for the first time. Enjoy!
While the Kena is an instrument that was played thousands of years before Columbus came to the Americas, many people are surprised to discover that the Native American Flute came about in the 1800’s after indigenous North Americans were exposed to the fipple flute through European contact. That is, the Native American flute is a post-colombian instrument. Some people theorize that indigenous North Americans may have discovered the fipple flute after seeing organ pipes in missionary churches. Others conjecture that they came upon fipple flutes after raiding bands of European settlers heading west. Another plausible idea is that they traded items for a European fipple flute, and the rest is history.
Why do you call it Siku and not Pan-flute?
The pan-flute is a European instrument made from hollowed hardwood. It is one row of notes, usually curved and found in the Mediterranean. The flute was associated with the Greek God Pan, a half-goat, half-man deity often depicted playing a pan-flute. The instrument is very popular in Romania, where it is called a Nay. Many people are familiar with the Romanian flautist George Zamfir, who introduced many Americans to pan-flute sounds on late night television many years ago. Although similar, the Siku and pan-flute are two different instruments that developed independently, from very distinct cultures and musical cosmogonies.
What does Pentatonic and Diatonic mean?
Pentatonic is a scale that consists of five notes. Many ancient cultures used pentatonic scales in their music. To play a pentatonic scale on the Kena, you would need to omit the fourth and seventh note of the G major scale to end up with G pentatonic. The Japanese Shakuhachi is a pentatonic flute. Most Native American flutes are tuned to the pentatonic scale as well. The advantage of a pentatonic scale is its simplicity. It is hard to play a “wrong” note! However, a five note scale limits the kind of melodies you can interpret. You will be hard pressed to interpret western music (like Christmas melodies or classical pieces for example) using a pentatonic instrument.
A Diatonic scale provides notes proper to the prevailing key without chromatic alteration. If we have a flute in the Key of G, then the notes available to us are G-A-B-C-D-E-F#. For example, the Siku in G Major contains one half-note, F Sharp, because it is part of the G Major scale. The G Major Kena has one F Sharp as well. To play in a different key we need to play some sharps and flats depending on the key (remember the black keys on a piano?). The Kena allows us to access many of these notes by half-covering some holes. For the Siku, it is easiest to have a flute made in that particular key, much like a harmonica player carries harmonicas in different keys.
Your’re not from Peru, why do you play this music?
Ok, I’ve heard that one plenty of times. If you want to know my background then I suggest you read my Bio. Regardless, music is a human endeavor. Do you have to be Austrian to play Mozart? Should Yo-Yo Ma leave the cello and dedicate his life to playing traditional Korean music? Does Eric Clapton have no right to play the Blues because he isn’t from the Mississippi Delta? Where do we draw the line? I think there is a problem if you do not credit the origins of a musical tradition. My goal has always been to promote Andean and South American culture through music. I have seen the ability of music to bridge gaps between people. In the end, an appreciation for different cultural traditions makes for a better world. My instruction manuals teach people the history and origins of these incredible instruments. That being said, I hope one day to see Andean instruments used by more people, integrating them into new musical styles and experimenting with what is a very, very ancient sound.