Native stories and song soar at fair
The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael
Flute of emotion: Eric Marczak, of Knox, plays “Zuni Sunrise Song” through a triple-barrel flute at the Altamont Fair on Tuesday. Chester Mahooty originally composed the tune in the 1930s, and Marczak finished the song with two other flutes. Marczak and his wife, Dawn Standing Woman, present Native & Traditional Stories at 6:30 p.m. every day at the fair inside the gazebo by the art building.
ALTAMONT –– Native and traditional living has practically gone out the window these days, but some people still hold true to their upbringing and culture.
For example, do you know anyone who doesn’t own a cellular phone?
Before early Tuesday evening, I didn’t either, but that answer changed upon meeting Eric Marczak and Dawn Standing Woman at the Altamont Fair. The pleasant and earthy Knox couple was about to present their Native & Traditional Stories set in a gazebo, but then a downpour of rain fell from the sky.
Twenty minutes later, the shower had passed, and Marczak’s flute playing began to serenade whichever fairgoers were within listening distance. Marczak’s notes, accompanied by pre-recorded music through an amplifier, were so charming that it seemed to whisk away whatever rain clouds remained.
“I’m not going to play any rain songs,” said Marczak. “That’s for sure.”
Then, Marczak broke into “Fear In The Mountains” as a double rainbow appeared over the trees.
He’s collected many different types of flutes from around the world, and also makes his own. He had at least two dozen flutes with him on Tuesday, all in different tunings and keys.
“He made a bone flute that was a copy from an 800-year-old artifact,” Standing Woman said. “He gives away more than he sells.”
Standing Woman, of Mohawk Turtle Clan descent, stood at the microphone, telling native stories with true conviction and grandeur. There were little to no people listening — the rain had scared them away — but she spoke as if 1,000 were standing there. Her eyes were wide, and her natural beauty was clear. She was the fire.
Everything in the world is one, Standing Woman said, and everything demands respect. Her first story was about when the Earth was flat, but the Creator wanted a hill.
“The Creator built a mountain of snow, but it was too plain,” she said. “Creator wanted trees, so the sun melted the snow, making streams. The Creator said, this was good…then leaves became the birds, creating song. Creator said, this was very good…Little sticks became fish, medium sticks became animals, and the big branch became the grizzly bear.”
Marczak picked up a flute, playing “Road to Mustang,” a song about hiking the Himalayas. He followed with a 1970s Russian tune called “The Lonely Shepherd,” which was featured in the 2003 Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
I recognized the song immediately, its tones at once tense and soothing I was eager to give the movie another viewing, but it was visible in my head when I closed my eyes.
Kill Bill is a violent film with a beautiful soundtrack. Standing Woman said she enjoyed it.
Marczak changed flutes frequently as Standing Woman watched in admiration. Emotion and lung capacity are never wasted.
Married for 13 years, Marczak had initially courted Standing Woman with his flute playing. “She first came up to me with a broken flute, and she wanted me to fix it,” he remembered. “My songs attracted her in the traditional way. Men in tribes used to make flutes to court women.”
There were once tribes that forbid females from playing the flute, or any instruments for that matter.
Standing Woman tells stories to keep “my and our history alive,” she said. These tales aren’t just for fun; they are important happenings of creation. Most of the stories have lessons, and some go on for days and days. Some have no ending.
“I enjoy it,” she said. “Everyone’s eyes are glued, and they can identify certain things. They learn.”
As Tuesday’s set wound down, Standing Woman told of the possum, who used to have the most beautiful tail in the world. It was fluffy and full, and the possum always made sure that all the other animals knew.
“At council meetings, Possum waved his tail in front of all. The other animals were getting tired of Possum,” Standing Woman said, waving her arms. “Why did Possum always have to talk about his tail?”
Standing Woman said that Rabbit called all the animals together. Rabbit had an idea.
“Rabbit asked Possum to sit next to Bear at the next meeting, and Possum said he would because he had the most beautiful tail,” she said. “Rabbit told Possum that his tail looked a little dirty, so Rabbit mixed something together, covered Possum’s tail with the mixture, and covered it in snake skin.”
Rabbit told Possum to take the snake skin off at the next meeting, Standing Woman said. The possum took a nap with the snake skin on his tail.
“So, in walks Possum at the meeting, and he waves his tail around,” said Standing Woman. “Possum unwraps the snake skin, and all the fur falls to the ground. Possum…faints as the other animals laugh. Possum has an ugly tail now, and he passes out wherever he pleases.”
Standing Woman steps away from the microphone, sits, and watches as Marczak puts a triple-barrel flute to his lips, playing “Zuni Sunrise Song” by Chester Mahooty.
All is well; all is calm, for the flute is the most soothing instrument of the Earth.