Saturday, July 5, 2014

21st Century Musical Healer--Cedar Songs

Peter Ali
On the Solstice, I felt exhausted, but I wanted to check out the Fairhaven District Art Walk.  So I dragged myself by bus to the event.  When I stepped into Village Books, I heard Peter Ali talking about his introduction to Native American and other traditional flutes.

While I was only planning on staying for one or two songs (since I wanted to see as much art as possible), I ended up staying much longer.  I found Peter engaging as he shared stories about his life experiences in relationship to his flute.  One of those stories involved performing for the 14th Dalai Lama and another story revolved around surviving cancer and its brutal chemo treatment.

However on that particular evening, I felt drawn to the soothing qualities of Indigenous flutes and Peter's healing stories that went along with his improvised songs. Coming from mixed heritage, Peter could call himself a true world citizen and one with a healing heart.  So let's celebrate another 21st Century Musical Healer.

Whole Music Exp: You had mentioned that a loss (divorce) brought the Native American flute into your life and that the flute brought healing to you. Will you describe briefly this experience of the flute bringing you healing and how the flute came to you at the right time? 

Peter Ali: The hurting of going through a divorce was being separated from my kid and not understanding why my then wife refused counseling. I was extremely stressed from also working fewer hours due to lack of work and having no family in this State to reach out to. The Native flute came into my life just in time on a summer day during an annual art festival in Poulsbo. I could hear the sound of the Native flute being played and I was drawn to the vendor booth that was selling them, hence meeting the Stewart family/Stellar flutes. 

WME: Please tell me the story of how you discovered additional healing powers of your flutes when you were undergoing chemotherapy and that you now play flute for cancer patients to bring them stress relief. 

PA: Prior to being diagnosed with cancer I played the flute as way to connect with my ancestors and create community (I and an old girl friend hosted several Native flute circles at one time). I found that playing the flute had a calming effect and that sometimes I could tune out everything else. The idea of playing while undergoing chemo was my way of calming everyone else around me in the infusion area, including patients, staff and me. Cancer changed my outlook on life to where I feel everyday is a blessing. I'm glad that I get to stick around so I give back by sometimes just dropping by the cancer center where I was treated and play a few songs to encourage the patients to stay positive and that they will be okay through all this. 

WME: You teach students Native American flute and when you give presentations you include history and other information about each of your unique flutes. Do you ever feel like you are an ambassador of traditional flutes? 

PA: Yes, I totally feel like an ambassador as you mention. I'm glad for my mixed ancestry and it allows me to share who I am, having parents from different countries, languages, belief systems, etc.  I have played in many spiritual communities. Playing for the Dalai Lama (Seeds of Compassion Tour) has been the highlight of my short career, next to playing for cancer patients, tribes, multicultural events, foster Native youth programs and.....just sometimes giving a flute to someone who is hurting. 

WME: Finally, how has your unique heritage brought the flutes into your life? And it seems that the flutes have also led you back to your deeper roots too. 

PA: Somehow, I'd been playing flute for some time and not knowing that flute playing was in my blood as it came very natural to me having no musical past really. (I did take trumpet in grade school but dropped out as I found having to read music was frustrating). 

Imagine the surprise when I learned from my father after I played a song for him on my Native flute when he told me, "Your grandfather was a flute player, he played at weddings and ceremonies." So I asked him why didn't you tell me this when I was young? His answer was, "I didn't think it was important." Now when I'm doing my presentations especially with tribal youth I tell them how important it is to ask questions, such as, “Who am I?” 

In closing, the Native American flute as well as, the Middle Eastern and Norwegian flute I play, brings me peace in many ways. It helps me connect to people from all walks and paths of life, it keeps me humble and grounded, it creates community and it is how I meditate. It’s how I pray and talk to the ancestors. 

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