In 2003, Clint Goss attended his first Music for People (MfP) concert. About midway through the show, he turned to his wife, Vera Shanov, and whispered, “I want to do that.”
No sooner had the final notes evaporated from onstage than the couple registered for their first MfP Weekend. Goss was “blown away” by MfP’s humanistic, improvisational approach. “Vera and I had a blast, but, musically, I fell flat on my face. It took time for me to hone my skills,” he recalls.
Today, the two are among MfP’s elder statespersons, owing much of their success to the organization’s late co-founder, David Darling, who also became their friend and mentor. Along the way, they launched a Native American style flute program, now in its 15th year.
“Vera and I play all kinds of world flutes and other exotic instruments, but our primary interest is in the Native American style flute,” explains Goss, who also is an aviator and a computer technology consultant. “We believe in the Native American philosophy of ‘playing from the heart.'”
We recently caught up with the Connecticut-based teaching artist, who describes his own brand of music as “ethnic fusion,” to discuss the impact of MfP on his life and career.
What is “ethnic fusion”?
The term is an obfuscation because the music I play draws on many genres and world cultures. Whenever people hear me say “ethnic fusion,” they take it to mean anything under the umbrella of world music.
How many instruments do you own and play?
According to my spreadsheet, I have 368 flutes from all over the world. I also own shruti boxes, along with various hang drums, keyboards and other assorted percussion instruments.
Vera and I have been collecting instruments since the mid-1990s, when we began doing technical assistance projects in developing countries, like Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya, Palestine, Bulgaria and Georgia. It’s a huge opportunity to connect with folks; jam with local musicians, like the Tuareg [a large nomadic tribe who live across the Sahara Desert] in Morocco; and, of course, collect cool instruments.
Which instrument do you enjoy playing the most?
I gravitate toward Native American style flutes with a modern sound. Despite their limited playing range, they are less muted in the upper register and have an even timbre.
Older flutes, especially ones from before 1920, have a wild character all their own. They are a blast to play, and audiences enjoy them.
Do you own any unusual instruments?
I own a “bungo” [a wooden water drum] from Uganda. I got it from a so-called “professor of the instrument” while teaching in Kenya.
I also have a MIDI instrument called the Sylphyo. Made in France, it’s an electronic counterpart to the acoustic flute. I’ve used the Sylphyo to build sound libraries for eight of my flutes, and I plan to do the same for other instruments in my collection that are unique, historical or irreplaceable. I want to make these sound files available to everyone via open-source software.
You and Vera facilitate flute schools and workshops worldwide. What’s central to your teaching?
Everything we learned from Music for People is universal—it requires no translation or verbalization.
There are some instrument-specific aspects, however, that require localization. For instance, flute players from Japan have amazing chops, but they often use improvisation to sound “more original.” New Zealand players, on the other hand, want to know how music relates to their indigenous cultures.
What can we in the West learn from musicians in other parts of the world?
Release judgment. Enjoy. Make music in community. Return to child. Play.
Right out of the MfP playbook. … What else did David Darling teach you?
David knew exactly how far to push you, how to get you out of your head. He also knew when to toss you the baton, even if you didn’t think you were ready. His teachings were fast and dramatic. They’ve changed our lives.
Author: Robert Enslin