As unlikely as it seems, I first came across Native American Flutes when I was in South Korea. Newly graduated from University, I decided to head off overseas to teach English as a second language. The early days of my life in South Korea had many challenges, with very few friends to talk to, a new language to grapple with, and a sketchy job as an English language teacher, I felt lost and often isolated.
One day a new friend of mine, Tim Sorenson, introduced me to the album The Indian Road: The Best of Native American Flute Music. I was instantly entranced. With the soft haunting tones and melodies, my emotional woes were quelled for a time. As I roamed the Seoul Subway I’d listen to the sounds of Mary Youngblood and Laurence Laughing. I found refuge in this new music.
When I returned back home to New Zealand I found my first Native American Flute over the internet. The package arrived and I went straight to the echoes of my bathroom to play. I didn’t stop playing that flute, it traveled with me through Japan and India, and its music instilled in me a new way of being.
In time I begang to wonder how I could make my own flute. I wanted to learn the craft of the Flute Maker. I needed a teacher, so I searched for Native American Flute Makers…
Apprenticeship with Matt Shooting Star
At the time I was pondering how to learn the craft of Native American Flute-making, I found out Matt Shooting Star was traveling to New Zealand. I invited him to come to stay with my family in Christchurch and he accepted. I told him my desire to become a flute maker someday, and to my surprise, Matt said he was looking for an apprentice and that he would be pleased to consider me as a candidate.
I let Matt’s offer sink in.
A few months later I was living in his spare room and spending my days in his workshop in Northern New South Wales, Australia. Matt welcomed me with complete respect, love and openness. He was willing to work with a guy who had never used a power tool before!
Over the months Matt continued to work alongside me, sharing all he could of his skills with tools and wood and helping me to create my own style in flute craftsmanship.
Matt’s generosity and enthusiasm allowed me to realize that becoming a Flute Maker wasn’t some far-off dream. Matt set me on the ever-unfolding road the flute-maker, the path of artisans, musicians and instrument makers.
Matt urged me to go further and put me in touch with Guillermo Martinez,one of the master craftspeople in Native American Flute-making.
Apprenticeship with Guillermo Martinez
I phoned Guillermo and asked if he was interested in taking on an apprentice; “Come by and stay for a week” he said “we’ll see how it goes.” I traveled to California to meet Guillermo. That week raced by and I stayed on with Guillermo for another half a year, working every single day of that time.
Guillermo is of the Tarascan people, of Michoacan state in central Mexico and has dedicated more than 20 years to the craft of woodwork and musical instruments. He stuided under the true masters of flute craft, learning both traditional clay flute forms and modern Native American Style Flute craft, of which he has been an important innovator.
I am forever grateful for Guillermo, he opened his life, home, family, community, and expertise in the flute craft to me. While I have further developed my own style, the hallmark of my flutes are based on the fundamentals of Guillermo’s tutelage.
During my stay in the USA, I was lucky enough to meet two inspirational musicians that I had heard of that first album The Indian Road many years before.
On my way to meet Guillermo, I attended the Georgetown Nature Festival, as Mary Youngblood was in the performers’ line up.
The day after her concert, I scheduled a time to meet her, and we shared stories, played together, and she even helped me find my lost car keys (they were locked in the boot)! Mary Youngblood is a seminal figure in the Native American Style Flute community, it was an honor and inspiration to meet with her along my flute journey.
The Georgetown vortex of synchronicities grew, and shortly after, I connected with Lawrence Laughing. In a bizarre turn of events, he and I ended up playing on the radio together and Lawrence even sang my favourite song for me, “Eagle come pray for me”.
For the rest of my in the USA, I maintained my connections with Georgetown, and still have strong ties to that small country town. My time in the USA brought me close to people and places that inspired me on a spiritual and practical level, and these connections have nourished the growth I’m experiencing now with m business Southern Cross Flutes.
The Business Southern Cross Flutes
Having finished my Native American Flute making apprenticeship, I returned home to New Zealand. It was now time to craft these instruments on my own and sell them.
At the beginning of 2012, I officially opened my first Native American flute making workshop in the centrally located suburb of Brooklyn, just 5 minutes from Wellington’s city centre. My workshop opened directly onto the busy main street and I would often be asked to play the flute to neighbours and passerbys. I sold my flutes at artisan markets and hippy style festivals.
I soon outgrew my Brooklyn workshop, an went to buy my first house – with workshop space – in Raumati South, a little beach side community on the Kapiti Coast, just north of Wellington.
I continued selling flutes at Flute Circles, Markets, Festivals and a small but growing web presence to New Zealand customers.
The Southern Cross Flutes Brand
As website sales grew and started to surpass market and festival sales, I undertook to create a rocking website. But first, I needed a visual identity to convey Southern Cross Flutes values and ethos.
In 2014 we worked closely with Foundry Creative – a Wellington design company – to convey the heart and spirit of Southern Cross Flutes visually and is the visual identity we continue to use today.
The logo is made up of the Tui, with its wings spread wide, nestled between the Southern Cross constellation (as visible from the Southern Hemisphere).
The Tui, a versatile and remarkable song bird in New Zealand, is depicted with its wings spread wide symbolizing the flight and soaring spirit of flute song, and the open, nurturing Native American Style Flute community we are so proud to be a part of evolving here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The stars of the Southern Cross are beautifully integrated into the design, conveying a sense of place, and honouring the guiding inspiration, wonder and comfort evoked by this constellation.
The logo of Southern Cross Flutes embodies our craft, cultivating creativity and inspiration, beauty and contemplation.
The new Apprentice
As the birth of my first child was approaching and the business was likewise expanding internationally, I knew I needed to get an apprentice on board to help fulfill demand. But who would fit? I needed someone with musical aptitude and adept at woodwork. Would I find someone in my little beachside community? Or even in New Zealand?
Well yes, as it turned out. One afternoon I sat down at our local cafe at an empty seat next to Bruce – a regular. We got talking. Bruce, turns out, had already come across Native American Flute when he was working at Weta Workshops on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Not only that, he had been playing concert flute and percussion for many years, and had studied acoustics at University with a mind to make musical instruments.
Wow! Thanks Universe! A short while later, Bruce joined me part-time in the Southern Cross Flutes workshop. He is now in the Workshop pretty much every day, creating flutes and innovating the craft to a superior level.
“It was awesome to meet Todd and find another like minded soul with a love of fine woodworking and flute making”.
Southern Cross Flutes Today
The Workshop drill hums and three year old Hanu stands at the open garage door with his bright yellow ear-muffs on. He points to Bruce and Bruce stops drilling to say good morning. “We go see daddy at school” says Hanu. Ahly places three long cardboard parcels into the front seat of the car “but first, to the post office” and scoops Hanu up. Bruce waves goodbye and turns back to tuning the ancient kauri grandfather flute in his hands.
It’s a family business. Todd has handed over the craftsmanship to Senior FluteMaker Bruce who – for the first year – lived in the tiny-house out front. Todd ensures all the flutes are in impecable order before being sent out, communicates with the customers, videos and photographs the new flutes and ensures the best quality woods and gems are sourced. Ahly in turn, runs the website and helps out with the postages and packaging. Hanu continues to give a running commentary of all proceedings within the house and workshop. He’s exceptionally good at finding missing things like oily rags and clamps.
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