Woodworker finds his calling in the Native American flute
By Glen Young 5/18/09
Music from the heart, says Matt Koontz is what lightly resonates from his Native American style flutes.
Koontz, originally from East Jordan, lives in Petoskey, where he teaches Spanish at Petoskey High School. And though not himself Native American, he nonetheless has been drawn to the richly mellifluous sound of the modest wood instruments.
Like everyone else, I played in school, he says of his adolescent experience in music. But he put down his instrument until about six years ago when he rediscovered an old recorder he wanted to play to his infant son.
Wanting to replace the worn out recorder with a new one, he was instead put off by the inflated price. So he decided to make his own. After reading up on making flutes, and meeting a Native American flute maker while attending a native language conference, he set about making his first flute. With a background in woodworking, he still found that first effort took him nearly 20 hours to complete. He has since cut that production time in half.
You learn ways to be efficient, he says of his refined approach. Koontz often cuts multiple pieces at once in order to make several flutes at once.
I use white cedar which is local and I put it together with red cedar because I like the contrast, Koontz says of his instruments soft bi-colored finish.
The artistry of his flutes is utilitarian as well as timeless. The instruments feature an oak fipple, or block, tied in place with a leather thong fitted over the brass rimmed opening on the instruments air hole. The fipple he says is something others often carve to personalize, but Koontz says he makes his flutes for instruments, not for decoration.
Koontz crafts his flutes by cutting two matching pieces of cedar, hollowing out the center, then gluing the halves together. When the glue has set, he decides on a key, and then uses a template atop the piece to mark the location of the finger holes before using his drill press to drill out the openings. Varying lengths and narrowing or widening the openings diameter provides the flutes key and tone. Regardless of the diameter, he rounds the end to 3/16 of an inch for precision and consistency.
His flutes are crafted on a five note pentatonic scale, with six finger hole openings. Their sound is soft though direct, providing a rich and recognizable timbre.
Koontz, who traveled in Europe and South America after college, learning languages and customs, says his flutes are not particular to any specific region, but they work well for me. He has made more than 200 in the six years since he began, and is currently at work on an order of 40 flutes for a single local client. He appreciates that his clients have warmly received his work.
MAKE ME ONE
He sometimes attends arts fairs with his instruments, often setting up shop at the events such as the Greensky Hill Church Arts and Crafts Fair in Bay Shore each spring. Koontz says, however, that word of mouth is still the best promotional method.
I would make one and my friends would say make me one, he says of his early efforts. Koontz expects to make about 30 flutes this summer, mostly he says, because it makes me feel good. Its cool when somebody plays your instrument.
He has also dabbled in deer hide drums, but Koontz says he isnt sure hell pursue that instrument. He likes the more manageable scale of the flutes. Koontzs largest flute measures 27 inches long with a 1 1/8 inch diameter bore. This large version plays in a key of D minor. Smaller versions run 13 inches, with a bore diameter of ¾ inch and play in a key of C minor.
Koontz says his Native American style flutes are cool for people who want to be musicians but never have been. The instruments offer, people a whole new approach to music. You dont have to get hung up on reading other peoples music, he says. They, Make music accessible to anybody.
Those interested in learning more about his Native American style flutes can contact Matt Koontz directly at 231-439-5181.