My Flute Journey

September 29, 2010

Why the Native American Style Flute? If you're reading this, you probably already know — the song of the flute touches people in a way that no other instrument does. I've never heard anything that has a more profound effect on people. Its sound speaks directly to your heart and mind and soul. As 19th century author Thomas Carlyle said, much better than I can articulate, “Music is well said to be the speech of angels; in fact, nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine.”

In 1987, I attended my very first powwow. On that cold winter day, I heard a sound that would later become my one true passion. One of the vendors was playing a tape of flute music, and it was like nothing I had ever heard. I was quite simply captivated. That weekend started me down a road that I'm still travelling today.

Over the years, I was a regular participant in powwows across the Southeast, becoming an accomplished Traditional and Grass dancer and even serving as Head Man several times. In 1992, I was at a powwow in my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. One of the vendors there was selling flutes. Given the way the music spoke to me, I knew that I needed one. Thanks to family and friends who were there, I was able to scrape together enough money to purchase the first of many flutes.

Fast forward a few years. I played that first flute a lot, learning as much as I could and doing my best to emulate the music I heard on CDs. However, to be completely honest, it was a bit frustrating. The flute didn't have much volume, and the tuning wasn't quite the same as the music I loved so much. I thought the problem was simply my lack of ability.

In December 1998, my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. As many people do, we were checking out all the shops up and down the main street in town. We stopped in The Silver Galleon, and right on the front counter was a large rack of flutes. Of course, I made a beeline over there and started checking them out. I picked one up and started playing — and it was loud and clear and magical. I tried another and another and another, and they all sounded a thousand times better than the flute I had been playing for years. I simply had to have one, and even though we were broke newlyweds, I was once again able to scrape together enough money to buy one.

That flute made all the difference. My playing improved rapidly, and it was now a joy to make music. Like many other fluteplayers, I was addicted, so my collection began to grow. Every time we were near Gatlinburg, we would stop back in to The Silver Galleon and pick up another flute in a different key. And like many other flute players will tell you, the price of those flutes began to add up.

I decided that it was time to try making a flute of my own. I stumbled upon a discussion group on that was run by Dusty Moore of Tsunami Flutes. I asked a few questions, bought a few tools, and got ready to start making sawdust. In January 2002, central North Carolina experienced record snowfall, accumulating almost 20 inches of snow overnight. Needless to say, we're not prepared for weather like that, so everything shut down. I was going to be snowed in for a few days, so I finally had a chance to get started on the project that had been calling to me. After a couple days and a lot of experiments, I turned a piece of cedar into a flute. It wasn't pretty and it didn't sound that great, but I had done it.

Later that year, we were able to attend Musical Echoes, a Native American Flute festival held annually in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of very talented flutemakers and see how each of them made their own unique instruments. Completely inspired, I came home and began making more. Each project became a learning experience for me, but like the first flute I purchased, I was a bit frustrated with some of the limitations I was experiencing due to the tools I could afford.

By 2005, I knew what I needed to do. I had to change the way I was doing things, and that meant buying quite a few new tools. As an unexpected answer to prayers, I was given the money necessary to take my flutemaking to the next level. I quickly adopted new techniques and began producing the flutes I always dreamed I would make. After a lot of planning and praying and encouragement from friends and family, Village Flutes (my previous business) was born in May 2006. I spent every spare minute I had in the garage building flutes and refining my craft.

Of course, life got busy. Our first son was a baby at the time, and as he grew, my priorities changed. Before long, we had #2 on the way. Also, my job began to consume more and more of my time until I eventually had to put down the tools for a while. Village Flutes was no more.

By 2010, I was burned out at work and that passion to create instruments was gnawing at me again. I needed to find a way to get back into the workshop. I started looking at my schedule, trying to trim out unnecessary distractions and find a few extra hours. I spent every spare minute getting my workshop back in order. As fate would have it, the day after I got everything set up and running again, I lost my job. So I came home, walked out to the shop, and started working. I've been out there every day since, building flutes — and a few new additions (strings and percussion). Maybe I'm crazy for trying to make a living as a full-time instrument maker in a down economy, but it's what I need to do. With this new direction comes a new name: Jon Norris Music & Arts.

Most flutemakers will agree that this road is a continual learning process. As flutes emerge from solid pieces of wood, they teach you new techniques and push you to try things in new ways. I look forward to the lessons I receive as I continue to develop my craft. And most importantly, I look forward to sharing my passion with others. My desire is to produce high quality, affordable instruments that will allow others to experience the same joy I do each time I play.