Tate Completes Native Flute Book


NMU students enrolled in a world music course this fall are the first to use a new book written by Elda Tate (Music) titled Native American Flute Song. It features more than 100 flute transcriptions – a collection that parallels the work of Natalie Curtis in The Indians’ Book – and 12 of Tate’s original compositions.


Tate became intrigued by the Native flute several years ago after attending a workshop led by R. Carlos Nakai, who recently gave a concert in Marquette as part of the NMU Performing Arts Series.


“I just had to play it,” Tate said. “The most endearing quality of the instrument is the sheer beauty of sound that can reach the inner spirit and amazingly can be produced by anyone. The Native flute is one of the easiest to play in terms of making a beautiful sound right away. It also provides an opportunity for musical self-expression through creating one’s own music. I find a lot of inspiration for doing that here with the beautiful outdoors.”


Tate groups her original compositions in the book under two headings: “Songs of Lake Superior,” pieces influenced by the Ojibwe in the Upper Peninsula; and “Songs of Manhattan,” which draw on her experiences near the Mohawks and Lenape in New York, where she lives during the summer.


“One of my songs is called ‘Mohawk High Steel Warriors’ because many of the high steelworkers in New York City were Native American,” she said. “They drove from upstate New York and helped build many of the skyscrapers. Another is called ‘Lenape Warpath’ because where Broadway is now was originally the site of the warpath.”


The book was several years in the making. Tate completed the writing when she was on sabbatical last fall and more recently incorporated the TABlature system developed by Nakai. It makes use of the five-line musical staff with four sharps to represent basic pitches of the instrument when “shortening the tube,” or taking fingers off from the bottom of the flute to the top. For those unfamiliar with Nakai’s system and unable to read music, Tate also provides an additional tablature that provides the fingering for each note.


The text includes a description of Native flutes, which today are made primarily of wood or synthetics and are five-hole or six-hole instruments.


“In the traditional Native life, songs were sung as someone celebrated or endured birth, survival and death,” Tate wrote. “Every activity included song and the depth of the music often reveals something quite stunning. The values of music are best achieved by learning to work together artistically in the context of unfamiliar cultures and beliefs.”



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Updated: November 8, 2004