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Navajo Flutist Worth Hearing


This week, Native American Flute concerts with Jonah Littlesunday are to be heard for the first time in New England. Nationally acclaimed Jonah Littlesunday, a full-blooded Navajo from Gray Mountain, Arizona, will be offering his spiritual and healing flute music, along with Navajo (Diné) history and folklore.

Littlesunday performed at fellow Arizonan John McCain’s funeral in Washington DC. Working with performance jitters, the young Navajo flutist wound up improvising for that event.

Upcoming concerts will be given in Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Peabody.

Give a listen to his Canyon Records album “Gratitude-Native American Flute Healing” HERE.

What may be surprising about “Gratitude” is its richness of content. Each of its eleven flutings possesses personalized poetry revealed in near-realistic musical depiction. For us “Bix to Buxtehude to Boulez” types, “Love’s Lullaby” might sound as if it were in a major key, even though it is in the world’s mode—pentatonic. Littlesunday’s full-throated flute delivers melodic friendliness and warmth accompanied by a steady drum beat that bonds Native American feet to the earth. Traditionally, boys would play the flute for mating purposes.

As with his other originals on the album, there is repetition, much like in pop songs, for the memory to latch onto. With the first two notes of “Veteran’s Bravery,” listeners may immediately latch onto Taps. Minor mode and slower tempo give a deep “feel.” “Dancing on Teardrops” opens with cries evident even to the youngest listeners. Here, the drum pulses in a short-long pattern. Short motives, rattle and steady drum make wonder-filled “For all the Tiny Tots.”

The wraparound wetness enhancements in the Canyon recording bother a bit, given the purity of Littlesunday’s work. There are high-pitched flute effects like the screeching wind in “Mountain Lion.” Through elevated calls in slowly unfolding intervals “Flight of the Eagle” depicts soaring effortlessly, ecstatically.

Thursday, August 15, 6:00 Manchester Community Center in Manchester-by-the-Sea
Friday, August 16, 7:00 Rocky Neck Cultural Center in Gloucester
Saturday, August 17, 5:30 Manchester Community Center in Manchester-by-the-Sea
Sunday, August 17, 1:00 Saltonstall Mansion in Peabody

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer). He has composed music for the Native American flutist and publisher James Pellerite

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  1. Thank you David, for taking the time to listen to Jonah Littlesunday’s ‘Gratitude’ Record and offer this preview. I also prefer the ‘purity’ of Jonah’s flute, without enhancement. I am looking forward to his next recording.

    I got a laugh out of your reference of the flute as a ‘mating’ ritual. While that may be true in some cases, more semantically correct would be that Native American flute was historically played for ‘courting’ or ‘serenading.’

    Of note, Jonah offered his moving performance at Senator McCain’s services in Arizona. This premier tour of New England will be Jonah’s first time traveling east of Indiana. This will be he and his family’s first time visiting the Atlantic coast.

    Also, there is a slight error in the schedule above – the Sunday performance at the Saltonstall Mansion is August 18 at 1pm.

    This is a unique opportunity to hear Navajo flute this far east, and of this caliber. Jonah’s flute playing is very special, having been taught by his grandfather to “pray as you play,” his music feels very rich and spiritual. Jonah’s personal story also has many rich layers, which he will be sharing during his performances. I hope you are able to attend one of his concerts this week.

    Comment by Karen Pischke — August 14, 2019 at 10:23 am

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