My first recording on the Northern Cheyenne Courting Flute…. The flute is not tuned to a traditional diatonic scale, the sound is more improvisational, however, I have found that I can play some folk songs. Here is a sample of me playing Wayfaring Stranger on my beautiful flute.
In traditional Northern Cheyenne culture, when the time came for a young man to find a mate, he would enlist the help of the tribal flute maker. The flute, made of cedar wood, showcases a bull elk, along with sun and moon carvings. This design honors the elk for shelter, food, and clothing, and the sun and the moon for the blessings of the day and the night. Upon receiving his flute, the young man would go off to a quiet area and play a love song, hoping to attract the attention of his intended mate.
Although not used for courting anymore, the tradition of flute making and playing continues through the work of JD Old Mouse, a Northern Cheyenne Indian who lives in Busby, MT. Busby is about a 1.5 drive from Billings, MT on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, near the Little Big Horn Battlefield. This was a pilgrimage from Seattle to Eastern Montana (my native state) to learn about an aspect of Native American music from a primary source. This is part of a larger music project I’m creating called Heart and Place: Exploring Westward Expansion through music and stories.
JD traces his flute lineage back three generations starting with Turkey Legs who lived near Fort Keough (Miles City, Montana) in the late 1800’s. After Turkey Legs, the tradition was passed to Grover Wolf Voice, then to Douglas Glenmore, also known as Blackbear.
JD learned the craft of building the flute from his grandfather, Douglas Glenmore. Not only did JD learn the building of the flute, but he’s also a master at playing. He plays for weddings, funerals, schools and other special occasions. Whenever a flute player is requested, JD answers the call, this is part of the flute maker’s responsibility and legacy.
Last week, I had the privilege of spending a morning with Jay and his wife, Amy, at their home outside of Busby to learn about the Northern Cheyenne Flute, an experience I’ll never forget. Jay showed me photographs of early flute builders and samples of their flutes, he also played the flute and gave me a lesson on playing this gorgeous instrument. I felt honored to get a peek into this culturally rich world. I purchased one of his wonderful flutes, which I brought home to Seattle.
Traditionally, the flute is played only by men, but JD has given his blessing for me to play and talk about the flute. He has built flutes for other women who are interested in the flute for healing , or for educational purposes.
For a video of Jay talking about and playing the Northern Cheyenne Courting Flute visit, please visit here.
Jay is a warm-hearted, funny, wise, and and soulful. Talking with him feels like a visit with those three great generations of Northern Cheyenne Flute makers who came before him.