Mile High Club, Improv
When I, uh, jet-set from city to city, at least when not travelling by bus or Via*, my favourite mode of travel is with Porter Airlines that flies out of Toronto’s downtown Island Airport. Here is a recording I made on my return flight from my trip to Canada’s East Coast last year. I love to brag about how for my first Porter flight, when I flew Porter to NYC, I actually simply had to ride my bike down the street to catch the ferry over to the island and check in with security: talk about convenience!
When I first spoke with a few guys about the idea of recording a flute ditty when flying Porter, a friend immediately suggested Rocky Raccoon by the Beatles, since it is – for better or worse – a raccoon mascot that informs us Torontonians about new flights to Newark or Chicago in the local papers. I was a little concerned about copyright, so, as I returned from Ottawa last summer, I opted for a brief improv on a wooden primitive flute in the cramped lavatory.
The acoustics really sucked there. Porter’s planes are super quiet, especially for a downtown airport setting, but have you ever noticed how noisy any airplane’s cabin interior can be? I guess that can be handy when you need to make some noise! The oppressive din of the white noise nearly drowned out the sound of the flute – lousy acoustics aside, I’m glad that I summoned the courage to record a little before we began our descent.
Ever the Canadian, I was concerned that despite a lull in traffic to the washroom I might keep people waiting out in the aisle. Sure enough, towards the end of the recording, a stewardess actually briefly barged in – rather apologetically – before I wrapped up my final few notes! Over a mile up, and somehow in my excitement I had forgotten to lock the door! Oops!!
* American readers: Via Rail is Canada’s version of Amtrak, and you really ought to check them out some time, especially for their spectacular lines through the Canadian Rockies! Or, for that matter, actually anywhere north of the 49th Parallel.
** Here is one story of the first North American Flute: A very long time ago there was a young man who was very interested in a beautiful young girl. He was always trying to get her attention, but she never seemed to notice him. Whenever she was present he would ride his horse proudly, but nothing he did seemed to attract her. One day when the girls were all down by the river getting water, the young man went down to the river and began diving off rocks to show her how skilled he was, but again she paid him no mind. Dejected, the young man walked into the nearby old growth forest and sat down at the base of a long dead cedar tree. As he sat there thinking about this girl, a woodpecker landed on a hollowed limb that was over his head, the limb had been hollowed over time from the wind and weather. The woodpecker began to peck holes….tap, tap, tap……… along the length of this hollowed limb…….. tap. tap, tap…….as the woodpecker pecked, the limb broke off and fell next to the young man, and as the wind blew over this hollow limb with the holes in it, he heard musical voices coming from it. He picked it up and found that when he blew into this limb and covered the holes, he could make beautiful, mournful music to match the feelings in his heart. He sat there for a long time making up haunting melodies. The young girl heard this music coming from the old growth forest, and it was such a soulful sound, she followed it into the woods. She saw him sitting there at the base of this cedar tree making his music, and as she listened she fell in love with his music and fell in love with him. They went off hand in hand to live happily ever after. One of the more popular uses for the Native Flute was for courting, to attract a mate. The legend also says that once you got a mate, you were to put the flute away and never play it again, because if you played it again, you might attract someone else?
Phillip Brown Bear
( Phil Lane )
There are many stories as to the true origin of the native flute.
This story was told to me by a Lakota Elder, Mr. Phil Lane (Phillip Brown Bear) just months before he passed on to the spirit world.