Ami Sarasvati traces her interest in the Native American style flute to a small bookstore in Colorado, where she first heard R. Carlos Nakai’s landmark album, “Canyon Triology.” “I immediately fell in love with the timber of the instrument,” she says, recalling that fateful 1992 day. “I listened to that album every night before going to bed.”
Years passed before Ami, a classically trained pianist, decided to experiment with a wooden flute. Method books and online lessons followed. Today, she owns about 20 different flutes. “I teach and perform, mostly in clinical settings,” says Ami, a member of Music for People (MfP)’s Musicianship and Leadership Program (MLP). “I have seen, over and over, the healing power of music in individuals and the community.”
We recently caught up with Ami—an Arizona resident who is a trained facilitator, author and healing arts practitioner—to discuss the role of MfP in her life and music.
Are you new to MfP?
I heard about it, a few years ago, from Clint Goss and Ron Kravitz, both of whom are MLP graduates who teach at Flute Haven, an annual retreat in southern Pennsylvania. Ron encouraged me to look at MfP, given some of the public outreach work I had been doing with seniors.
What do you like about improvising?
The experience has changed my approach to music. I’ve learned how to step away from the music stand, so that I feel like I’m actually “playing” with other musicians. I also am listening more and opening my mind to new musical ideas.
What advice do you have for aspiring flutists?
Even though the Native American style flute is easy to play, it is important to get solid training on it. Otherwise, bad habits can set in that are difficult to undo. A good teacher can quickly set you up for success.
Not to mention a good instructional book or two. Would you tell us about yours?
I am the author of “Learn to Play the Native American Style Flute,” an easy-to-read book that can help start you on your musical journey. I also have created a companion educational CD titled “One Life” and an online course.
What are common myths or misconceptions about improvising?
People think they need to be an excellent player to improvise. Indeed, learning to improvise on an instrument such as a violin may take longer than on a Native American style flute, but with the latter, you can play with some level of mastery after only 10 hours of practice.
What kinds of flutes do you own?
Mostly pentatonic minor flutes, along with some rare and specialty flutes, which come in handy at ceremonies and other events. It’s easy to switch between them. Each flute has its own personality and secrets, so it’s important to take time to get to know your instruments.
How can music heal during times of crisis?
The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix has a tagline that says it best: “Music is the language of the soul.” I cannot think of a better interpretation of the purpose of music. When we express ourselves through music, we process our feelings.
There’s a common language that arises when we play with others. It’s an accepted and supported expression—a “numinous” experience, to quote [MfP Program Director] Mary Knysh, that is healing to all those involved.
To learn more about Ami, visit https://learntoplaynaf.com/about/.