Don Schiller remembers his mother buying him an old, wooden flute as a vacation souvenir years ago.
Left untouched for decades, Schiller said it is still a mystery to him why one day about seven years ago at the age of 72 he picked it up and discovered he “liked the sound of it.”
He liked it that he was given a nicer one as a birthday present, and it came with instructions. He was hooked.
Unable to read music, Schiller said he just started “playing from the heart.”
“I’d tried other musical instruments and was not able to get very far with them,” said Schiller who will turn 80 on Oct. 6. “Then when I got this nice flute, and followed the instructions … I found I was playing recognizable music.”
He and his wife then started traveling to Phoenix to attend flute circles where he became more knowledgeable about the instrument, Native American stories linked to the flute and just became more immersed in the culture, heritage and the music.
When the travel started to be onerous, Schiller realized he didn’t want to lose out on the fun or the knowledge he gained from attending these events. So he decided to see if he might be able to connect with other Native American flute players to start a local flute circle.
Enter Larry Hansen.
Like Schiller, Hansen discovered the flute later in his life but once he started to play “he fell in love with the instrument.”
Together, the two explored starting what in August was the two-year anniversary of the Yavapai Flute Circle. The circle meets on the second Saturday of every month from noon to 2:30 p.m. in the children’s reading room at the Prescott Valley Public Library, 7401 E. Civic Circle.
On Saturday, Sept. 9, the Yavapai Flute Circle will have a Native American Flute Demonstration and Performance at the Prescott Valley library from 10 a.m. to noon in the Crystal Room that is open to the public at no charge.
The event will offer insights into the history of the flute as well as Native American stories and traditions and there will be various types of flutes available for anyone who might wish to try and play. It will also be an invitation to anyone who wishes to become part of the local flute circle.
Schiller and Hanson assure that the flute circle is a time like no other, a chance to simply enjoy the company of like-minded folks and appreciate music that enriches the souls who hear it and play it.
“We want people who are interested in the Native American flute; people who want to listen to it, or learn to pay it, and just enjoy it as much as we enjoy playing it. No obligation,” Schiller said. “We want to keep it simple. And so we decided our only rule is that there are no rules.”
The group has no dues, no officers and is open to anyone at any age, be they professional performers, novice beginners, or just listeners who appreciate the music and might want to learn more, or perhaps pick up the hobby.
“I play for myself,” Schiller explained. If other people listen, great. But it doesn’t matter.”
On visits to the Grand Canyon, Schiller brings along his flute.
“I will sit along the walk on the rim, and people walk by, and they may listen for a couple minutes, and that’s fine,” Schiller said. “They’re enjoying it, too.”
“The flute circle has been invaluable,” said Hansen who now makes his own albums. “We help each other out a lot. It’s all about letting people find the peace that comes from this instrument and the sounds that come out of it.”
The inaugural meeting of the flute circle attracted about 35 people; today they regularly have 15 to 20 people at each gathering. At a recent meeting, one of the attenders brought their 10-year-old granddaughter who was fascinated that she, too, was able to play a short melody with some basic instruction, he said.
“We’re all friends here… We promote the Native American flute and respect its origins and traditions,” Schiller said.
For more information about the flute circle or the demonstration, contact Schiller at 928-717-1000 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.