The Soaring Melodies of Hawk

“You are in for a great experience as Hawk weaves his magic,” promised Jennie Cline before musician and storyteller Hawk Henries took the stage with “Finding Peace though Music: One Man’s Gift.” What ensued on Wednesday at 6:45 in the Timken Room in Graves Hall was a unique entertainment experience that combined wind instruments and words of wisdom. Henries’ performance at PA was made possible through a grant from the Abbot Academy Association. Henries is a self-taught musician and flute-maker. Having discovered music fairly recently, Henries began the performance by stressing the importance of music and instruments in his life. The performance featured woodland flutes that Henries had carved from single pieces of wood as well as the aboriginal Australian didgeridoo. The instruments highlighted Henries’ own fascination with “older” instruments, a reverence which was evident in his compelling compositions. Henries also proposed that music had the power to “heal” and to communicate through the instrument’s exceptional voice. The flute music was hauntingly beautiful. The voice of the woodland flute featured swooping notes accented by trills, a deeper melody which separates the instrument from the reedy grasslands flute. Henries commented that he had not had time to warm up his instruments beforehand, which often leads to “scratchy” and “cracked” notes, however, the music was surprisingly clear. One of the most interesting instruments in the presentation was a flute that Henries had designed and built himself to mimic the sound of Scottish bagpipes. This unique instrument allowed him to play low, rhythmic notes and overlay them with a high, lilting melody. A definite musical highlight of the evening was the didgeridoo, a traditional Aborigine instrument. These peices showcased Henries’ versatility and improvisational mastery . He demonstrated not only his ability to create compelling rhythmic sounds, but also the difficult “circular breathing” necessary to play the deceptively complicated didgeridoo. The music was also served as a “wake-up” call, with deep, vibrating sounds that seemed to shake the foundation of Graves following the tranquil sounds of the flute. Henries has no formal training in music theory and does not know how to read or write music. Consequently, most of the music featured in the performance was either improvised or memorized, although Henries explained that even pieces that he had played before are constantly changing and evolving. This aspect of the performance allowed the audience to hear innovative music. Using an ongoing dialog to bridge the gap between the music and the audience, Henries infused the presentation with humor and a sense of perspective. More humor emerged in questions from audience. Henries skillfully fielded questions from the younger enthusiasts. For example, when one enquiring young mind wanted to know, “Who made the first flute?” Mr. Henries replied by telling a Native American legend. Mr. Henries also managed to approach issues of identity and humanity with comic sensitivity. For example, when questioned about his unusual hairstyle, Mr. Henries initially replied, “it’s cool,” later revealing the significance and inspiration behind his appearance. Mr. Henries views his music as a means of healing. This idea of the power to heal came through clearly, as Mr. Henries introduced each song and made each note an image of nature or a prayer. Throughout the performance, Mr. Henries asserted his ability as a storyteller, enhancing the pieces by providing the tale behind them. As he combined music and words, Mr. Henries added depth to the music by bringing in modern conflicts such as conservation and racial tension to the ancient medium of flute music. Mr. Henries also commented on everything from stereotypes to spirituality to Spongebob Squarepants, revealing a fresh outlook on the issues and concerns of the day. In the ongoing dialogue, Mr. Henries emphasized his Native American heritage and expressed concern about common misconceptions such as the belief that there is only one “Indian” culture. He also shared anecdotes from his childhood and described the emotional aspect of his discovery of his background at the age of 17.