The Lesson Of The Flute
I was in Peru in the 1980s with some friends. We spent a few months hiking and climbing around at some higher elevations in the Andes Mountains. We started off in the north, around Huaraz in the Cajon de Huaylache Mountains, and did some climbing and camping on the slopes of 20,000-foot Mt. Jirishanca. After that we went south to Cusco. People know Cusco because that’s where you go to get to Machu Picchu, the famous Inca ruins. We didn’t go there, but instead went south and climbed to the top of Nevado Ausangate. I had been to Peru before, but never to these particular mountains.
I’m bragging about my mountain climbing accomplishments because they explain why, when we eventually returned to Cusco, we were all very tired, had lost a lot of weight, and needed some good R & R in this lovely town in the Andes mountains. One day, I was walking around and looking in the shops, thinking I might buy a flute. I had only been playing the flute for a short while. It was the most recent of my musical instrument explorations—explorations that began with the violin when I was three years old, and went on to include saxophone, piano, drums, harmonica, guitar, and now flute. I actually learned to play the flute from Linda, a friend who was on this trip. She played the silver flute. I had made a flute some years before, but had never really played it. I guess it wasn’t time yet.
One day I borrowed Linda’s silver flute and made some sounds that I really liked. I was walking around the streets of Cusco and saw a little shop belonging to a guy who made flutes.
Flutes are very basic to Andean music. If you’ve heard some of that outrageously wonderful music, you know that the basic instruments are panpipes, drums, flutes and little mandolin-like instruments. Most of the flutes made and played in the Andes are called quenas. They have a slot you blow across the top of, instead of sideways, like a silver flute. A traditional flute was difficult enough for me, but I found making any sound (other than air) out of a quena impossible. This guy had probably fifty quenas in his window that he had made, plus one wooden flute that blew sideways like a silver flute.
I’m going to digress a bit, for those of you who have traveled in third world countries and know something about bargaining.
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