The Native American flute is known to evoke images of the Old West, a wolf calling to its mate or an eagle silhouetted against a fiery red-painted sky.
No one knows this better than Andy Talley who, for a quarter century, has kept the spirit of the Native Americans alive through his handmade flutes. Talley wants to enhance awareness of these ancestral music makers and believes sharing his knowledge with the community is a good place the start, he said.
“I want the community to embrace and appreciate this interesting, centuries-old culture,” Talley said of his approximately 23-flute collection.
Born and raised in Northern Illinois, Talley is a seasonal interpreter for the Bear Creek Nature Center. As an interpreter, Talley, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and a secondary teaching certificate from Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., interacts with BCNC visitors and assists with exhibit maintenance and development.
Sporting a snow-white beard and possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of nature, Talley doesn’t read or write music. With the exception of being able to peck out “Amazing Grace” and “Silent Night” on the flute, he doesn’t play a musical instrument.
“I grew up on old time rock ‘n’ roll and have always loved Native American flute music. But, I am not a trained musician. I could not tell you the note I am playing when I am playing it,” Talley said.
Talley was inspired to create his first flute while working at the Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville more than two decades ago. Located on an island in the Des Plaines River, the museum educates visitors about Chicago’s and Will County’s fur-trading history.
A hint of nostalgia laced his voice as Talley recalled how one of his coworkers played several instruments, including the Native American flute, as part of his historical interpretation. “I loved the look and sound of these flutes and became interested in creating one,” Talley said.
Talley read books and researched the internet to learn how to build the flute. An accomplished wood carver, he examined, measured and studied his colleagues’ flutes and figured the rest out by himself. Producing the first notes from an instrument he created was one of Talley’s greatest thrills, he said.
“I had no idea if I could learn to play it; I just wanted to try carving it,” Talley said.
Talley’s carving skills are without question. Scores of animal figurines and walking sticks take up residence in his home, where the combined scent of ash, cedar, pine, spruce and walnut enhance his creativity.
“Not all of my flutes are made from wood purchased at a lumberyard. Some have been made from fallen branches from trees in my own backyard. I have also worked with river cane and bamboo. I love working with cedar because it has great sound resonance and smells wonderful,” Talley said.
According to Talley, the smallest flutes measure about seven-inches long and one-half inch in diameter, while the largest models stretch more than 30 inches in length and three inches in diameter. A black-and-white-spotted Native American Courting Flute is his favorite, he said.
Talley takes a deep breath and blows into the flute, its distinct sound reminiscent of Native Americans celebrating a successful buffalo hunt through song and dance. “Generally speaking, the smaller the flute, the higher the pitch, and the larger the flute, the lower the pitch,” he said.
Talley said he doesn’t create his flutes for fame or fortune, but for love of the instrument. It takes about a week to make a flute, although Talley has spent from two hours to two years crafting a single instrument. Most of those he makes he trades or gives away as gifts. For those he selles, prices range from $50 to $200.
“Prices depend on many factors such as the size of the flute, material, intricacy of the design and how much I like you,” Talley said, grinning. “Sometimes I create them just for the joy of it.”
Contact Talley via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.