BEMIDJI-The Native American flute will take center stage this week with a free concert featuring award-winning performer Randy McGinnis and a flute making workshop.
The concert will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, June 28 in the Main Theater at BSU's Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex. The workshop will be held Saturday on campus and is limited to 25 participants.
The Native American Flute Festival is the brainchild of Jim Barta, dean of the College of Arts, Education and Humanities at BSU.
Friday's concert will begin with a welcome from Ann Humphrey, assistant director of the American Indian Resource Center. The first half of the concert will feature Jon Romer of Bemidji, a well-known flute performer, and Jim Barta's daughter Louisa, a professional modern dancer who will dance to Romer's music. Dancers and drummers from Red Lake also will take part.
McGinnis will take the stage for the second half, performing a variety of songs from some of the 100 or so flutes he owns.
"They're going to hear some solo type flute Cherokee music," said McGinnis, who is of Cherokee descent. "It's not rap, blues or anything like that, although I do play some blues. I've even played in bluegrass bands with the native flute. But I'm going to do traditional music. Because of the workshop the next day, I want them to hear what the flute really should sound like in the traditional sense."
McGinnis grew up in Ohio where he learned the values, traditions and language of his native culture. His ancestors left North Carolina prior to the Trail of Tears and settled in Kentucky before eventually moving into southern Ohio. The songs he plays on his Native American flutes are from the old songs he grew up listening to as a small boy. He does not prepare a list of songs ahead of a performance.
"I've got lots of songs in my head," he said. "I get a feel for the people what to play. There will be some prayer songs, some songs that I've been taught, and some that are my own."
Current CDs by McGinnis are titled "Ancient Voices of the Smoky Mountains," "Walking with the Spirits," "The Water Place," and "Smokey Mountain Dreams." The "Walking with the Spirits" album, which featured Knoxville Symphony Orchestra violinist Lucy Carlson, won a 2010 Native American Music Award (NAMA) for Best Compilation Album. "The Water Place" album was submitted in 2011 for a Grammy nomination. Over the years, he has been nominated numerous times for various NAMA awards. In 2015 he was nominated for the NAMA Male Artist of the Year.
"Randy is the perfect fit for this," said Kathy Towley, a member of the festival's organizing committee, "He plays from the heart and does not read music, which is what the Native American flute is all about. There wasn't written music years and years ago. The music came from the heart."
For Saturday's workshop, BSU students David Harris and Riley Pettit designed a flute drill and made models for each participant. Instead of glueing two pieces of wood to form the flute, the drill makes it possible to use one piece.
"It's fantastic how these students come up with these things," Towley said. "It just amazes me."