Waking Spirit Productions
Vance Pennington - Flute Maker
Koko Waking Spirit Flutes

Sharing the Gift -
How the Native American Flute Changed My Life

Vance Pennington

It is my belief that Grandfather (the Creator) has bestowed upon me a magnificent and extraordinary gift for creating Native American style Flutes. I am truly honored and accept his gift with humility. As a full-time flute maker, I feel I need to share this gift with anyone who has an interest in these wonderful instruments. So here is my amazing story:

As a young boy, I always felt I was different from the other children. Although I was born and raised in London, England by my mother, I knew from a very early age that my father was from America and I naively put my dark brown/yellowish eyes, dark complexion, high cheek bones and other attributes simply down to the fact that I was partly 'foreign'. It was difficult for me to understand exactly what it was at that very young and tender age but this 'feeling' led me to believe I had Native American blood. Many visits to my local library and book shops revealed that I had similar facial features to the photographs shown in Native American publications as well as the spiritual relationships Native Americans had with themselves and with nature. Further investigations in England revealed that my teeth and eyes pertained to those of Native American peoples.

After over thirty years of searching for my father and siblings I finally came to meet my American family in the mid 1990s. Unfortunately, and to my deepest regrets, my father had passed away many years before, so all I had to comfort me at the end of my long and sometimes bitter 'trail of tears' was a simple military grave marker in Wisconsin. Upon meeting my American family for the first time it was instantly revealed that I was of Cherokee blood, as was my father but unfortunately there is, at this point, no apparent paperwork to confirm this. However, that is not too important to me at this moment. The fact that I had finally found my roots was not only paramount, it has opened a door to a whole new and more acceptable way of life.

Many years ago, and before I came to reside in the United States - my father's homeland, I purchased my first Native American Flute from a small gift shop in southern Indiana. The flute had drawn me to it, seemingly to call my name, but alas it was more of an ornament than a playable instrument. But, I was fascinated by it! Years before I had heard about this style of flute when I read somewhere that there was no sound more beautiful than the song of the Lakota (Sioux) flute, but my flute was just that, a flute, it had no song or heart. I would sit back in my chair, in my accounting office in London, totally enchanted by this elusive sound that they had been describing. Deep within me there was a longing and desire to find that song!

With all the newly gained knowledge I had acquired about my heritage I would hold my very first flute in my hands and imagine a decoratively dressed Native American playing his hauntingly beautiful flute over some huge canyon. The sounds in my head brought tears to my eyes and a pride which stood beyond all the powers of a human being. It was then that I knew this was something I wanted to do, something I had to do and felt I had the right to involve myself with. But, unbeknown to me there was more to it.....

So once again the flute had called my name, drawing me to the hauntingly beautiful sounds I could hear so clearly in my mind. At that time I had no idea how to make a flute, I had only a vision! I took a piece of old cedar wood and started to work on creating my first flute using only a power hand drill, a flat one inch drill bit and a Stanley Surform file, for I had no workshop or other tools available to me. Many times during the creation of my first flute I suffered pain as I drilled the one inch bore hole, using my legs and knees as a vice. Often the drill bit would become jammed, spinning the chunk of wood between my legs ripping off my skin and bruising my bones. But I was not perturbed and continued to work on the wood until it formed the shape of a Native American style Flute. I then carefully cut a slow air chamber, sound hole and fingering holes, did some necessary sanding and tidying up and stood back to look at my creation. Would it play? I had no idea if it would or not. I really didn't know and would have to wait until I had crafted the block. Once completed, I carefully positioned the block in place and secured it with a piece of leather thonging I had found in my craft box. Would it really play, I asked myself again? I gingerly picked up the flute, put it gently to my lips and breathed the first breath of life into it. I will always remember that first wonderful sweet note as it drifted from the flute and engulfed the yard on that warm, sunny summer's day.

The knowledge pertained in making that first flute certainly did not come from me. How could it? I had no idea how to make a Native American style Flute and had no physical tutor to guide me. It was then I realized, as did my friends and companion, that I had been given a very special gift. I went on to make other flutes each playing better than the last and continued my study of the Native American Flute, the physics and mathematics involved in creating them and the style that is acceptable to modern demands and standards. I have found the sweet, haunting voice that had been used to describe the Native American Flute and that I had heard in my mind back in London all those years ago. I have found the heart and soul of the wood and have been granted the gift to make them sing their elusively haunting sound.