California Black Oak Branch Flute in A

The making of this recorder style branch flute is a return to my own cultural and lifetime roots.  Beginning in the mid 1970's, I took my recorder with me everywhere -- from the mountains, fields, rivers, creeks and shores to many social gatherings and musical gigs where it could speak from the heart with more truth and facility than I could find words for.

In 1993, when I was gifted a Native American Flute, I fell in love with that as well, even though the recorder could easily play the minor pentatonic scale that had become standard tuning on the NAF.  Something about the native flute's spirit, how it was prayerfully played, and the Earth-connected heritage that it evolved out of, drew me in, and in 2006 I started crafting branch flutes in that style.  And I am deeply grateful to the many makers and players of the Native American Flute who have inspired and guided me over the years.  

And now, the recorder has called me back.  Back to the good memories of it from my younger years.  And back to my cultural and ancestral roots.  The recorder (or blockflöte as it's called in German) is a sweet and sensitive instrument, no less capable of heart felt expression than any other musical instrument.  And it is equally capable of being a voice for the natural community -- an important intention for all musicians in this era of ecological crisis.  And when made from a tree branch, there is the added enchantment from the spirit of the tree.  Just holding and looking at a one-of-a-kind branch flute, with its contrasting textures and mix of colors that sometimes include (as on this recorder style California Black Oak branch flute) preserved lichen, can inspire an appreciation for the beauty, complexity and magic of nature.  

It is my hope that these enticements from the spirit of the tree might help heal the culture of my own heritage.  Up-rootedness and disconnection from the natural world have been plaguing this heritage since the forces of empire cut down the sacred groves in Europe and burned my ancestors at the stake for practicing their indigenous knowledge and wisdom.  So, here is a recorder made from an oak branch that a druid might play, under the oaks!  Or anyone wanting to deepen or heal their relationship with our Earth Mother or with the animistic Essence of their own Being. 

The traditional tune, Londonderry Air, seemed appropriate for demonstrating the wide vocal range of this recorder style branch flute.  But improvisation also comes naturally for it and there are several major and minor scales available for the player to choose from, within its seven finger holes/one thumb hole, German fingering design.  For instance, the standard minor pentatonic scale of the Native American Flute can easily be played on this recorder, starting on the second hole up, in the key of Bm.  A fingering chart with all available tones will be included with the shipment.   

The sound chamber of this flute has been tapered to help facilitate the upper register notes, though not quite to the degree of modern recorders -- from an inner diameter of about 13/16" at the window, down to 9/16" at the fundamental hole.  Because of this limited amount of tapering, a full octave in the upper register is not possible.  However, the tones within a major 6th above the octave are there!

Crushed and/or powdered amber was inlaid into any small holes left by bark beetle larvae, as this branch was gathered from a downed "dead" tree. 

BioShield's environmentally friendly Wood Counter Finish was used as a finish for the wood and bark.  

Since the recorder is a flute style from within my own cultural heritage, I have felt free to tweak
its design in the following ways, though still keeping inside the parameters of what defines a recorder:

  ~    In working with the idiosyncrasies of one-of-a-kind tree branches, I found it more practical to place the block on top of the carved windway, rather than inserting it into the body of the flute, under the windway, as has traditionally been done with lathe turned recorders.  This also allows for the refining of the voice throughout the tuning process, before the block is finally secured.   

  ~   Eastern Red Cedar has been laminated into the bottom of the block as well as into the windway/window/labium area.  This helps to delay breath moisture accumulation (wetout) and prevent wood rot and movement.  It also sweetens the flute's voice.  Traditionally, cedar has been used in recorder making only for the block. 

  ~   The mouth end of the windway has been opened up to help stabilize the player's breath.  This was inspired by the design of the European flageolet and by my experience playing and making the Native American Flute.  

Wishing you many natural blessings,

Jon Sherman




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