Nightdancers’ Montana Crossings: Flute Music of Transformation

Whether it has to do with the philosophy of better living through habit, thought or magical action, things that are associated with "New Age" are theoretically supposed to have some basis in spirituality. Yet much of this spiritually is lightly rooted in the shallows of corporate productivity techniques or power-of-positive-thinking type truisms with some pseudo eastern promises for dressing.

Then there is the New Age philosophy that harkens back to something ancient, even primordial. This is especially visible in the music. So much of what is called New Age music is made from artificial ingredients, from canned sounds created by synthesizers tuned and programmed for maximum vapidity; and voices, always the voices, high and breathy with a thin, grating tone that someone somewhere decided signified the celestial. But there are musicians who create spiritual and contemplative music based in the traditions and sounds of antiquity, from nations and cultures with long shadows such as Africa, China, Japan and India.

Riding on this track is the group NightDancers, a duo consisting of flautists Gera Clark and John Sarantos, who perform original songs based on the folkloric styles of several Native American tribes. The music on their CD Montana Crossings is both ethereal and earthy, reflecting the unitary, all-is-one world view common to Native American cosmology. The songs are mostly built on simple three to seven note motifs that go through different permutations. The flutes - NightDancers plays twenty-five different kinds of these wooden, handcrafted instruments - blend together and dance, their music resonating in what sounds like a valley high up in the mountains or a cathedral (kudos to engineer Jim Anderson of AVATAR Studios in NYC). The effect of the music is meditative and dreamy. The music itself is never static or boring; in fact its intricacies reveal themselves with repeated listening. The titles evoke, perhaps invoke, aspects of the natural and supernatural worlds, which many indigenous tribes say are one and the same.

The song titles and how the pieces are composed and arranged reflect this thinking. Musically these pieces evoke the objects and ideas behind the titles as well. The opening track "Spirit Winds" starts with soft, breathy tones that rise from silence in unison. Then one flute states a simple theme that is answered by a counter melody from the other flute; they go back and forth, each musical voice getting time and space alone while connecting with the other. The title track starts with bursts of fluttery, echoing sounds, followed by a long-toned plaintive melody calling to mind Montana’s terrain of mountains and wide-open plains. One characteristic element of all the songs is how the flutes will hit consonant harmonies that ring out dramatically, and dissonant unison lines that buzz gently yet also sooth in an odd sort of way.

On "Butterfly Dance" the flutes play lines that gently glide like the butterfly itself, answering and echoing each other in way that suggests the "round" form found in European folk and classical music. On "Turtle and Bird," NightDancers take evocation literally. One flute moves in long-toned, deliberately paced turtle lines while the other play’s light riffs that flit and hop like our aviary brethren would. As the piece continues, the unitary theme comes through as the two flutes move together, conversing in similar voices that stills maintain their original animal character. "Elk Medicine" is a gentle wail of pleading and prayer and is one of the strongest tracks on the record. It is also an example of healing music. The opening cry is answered by melodies that create a sense of quietude and peace. And healing.

Ms. Clark and Mr. Sarantos take the healing aspects of their music literally. Clark, a RN, has been teaching people how to play the flute for meditation and stress relief. She also started New York City's Miracle House Flute Circle where she works with cancer patients using music for healing. Sarantos teaches flute workshops all over the country.

Montana Crossings creates music that is relaxing and interesting, that can be played either as background or as an immediately engaging listen.

By: Mark Kirby

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