Acclaimed Native American Flutist Joseph FireCrow: On a Musical Journey
When prominent Cheyenne musician Joseph FireCrow starts playing his traditional flute he closes his eyes and expresses a mix of emotions—powerful emotions, which he says are difficult to explain. "The natural beauty of the flute evokes very powerful emotions. The traditional flute is social, not ceremonial, in nature, and should always be treated with that in mind and spirit."
FireCrow, who now resides in Connecticut, recorded his first album, The Mist, in 1992. Since then, his work has received widespread acclaim, including multiple Grammy and NAMMY (Native American Music Awards) nominations and awards.
This year, he’s again being recognized by the NAMMYs, with his album, Night Walk, up for best flute recording. FireCrow is also up for the NAMMY Artist of the Year title.
The musician’s gift is so appreciated that he is regularly asked to perform at pow wows, where his flute playing inspires and entertains. He’ll be appearing at the Norwich University Powwow in Northfield, Vermont, on April 6
FireCrow’s humility, though, has kept him well grounded and guided in his life’s pursuits. “My musical journey began when I was young. Drums were a regular part of our lives. In the summer were the war dances, now called pow wows. As kids, we would imitate the drummers on my mother’s galvanized washtub," he says.
“The very first time I heard the flute, I was a young boy living on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation located in southeastern Montana. Grover Wolfvoice was the flute man playing this wonderful music. The music was beautiful to my ears, yet it scared me. There was much poverty and depression at that time. The sound of the flute touched my heart, where there was much pain and uncertainty. Through all of the hardships of reservation life, the beauty and wonder of our homeland beckoned to me.”
Recently, he spoke with ICTMN about his new album, charity involvements and speaking engagements. He is excited about his acting debut and his Night Walk recording, which is bound for accolades at the 14th Annual NAMMY gala on May 10 at the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel in Niagara Falls, New York.
What is keeping you busy these days?
Well, we just put together a compilation CD to benefit a veteran’s charity that I endorse. The album is called Dawn’s Early Light, and includes various Native musicians, including Joanne Shenandoah, Cody Blackbird and myself, among others. Proceeds will benefit Operation Music Aid and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northern Cheyenne Nation. Also, I had my acting debut with a reading of the Native American inspired play called Distant Thunder.
Tell us about Night Walk.
Night Walk is a beautiful, powerful, calming, meditative collection of music that was inspired by the sound of just the flute, nothing more. The fluteman walks at night as he plays the flute. This is where he draws his strength, courage and inspiration for his melodies.
With all the awards and recognition you have received—have you ever struggled as an artist?
Of course! Some of my best music was created while in the midst of a personal struggle. Making music is part of the healing process for me.
What influenced you to play the flute?
I was in a flute class with John Ranier in the 1970s while at BYU. He was the inspiration to play, build and live the flute. I am sorry he is no longer here to share his gift.
What kind of emotions do you feel when you play the flute?
So many emotions and feelings pass through me when I play. It is hard to explain. I try not to let these get in the way of the act of actually playing. I don’t want to be distracted and forget what I am doing. I close my eyes a lot!
What was it like to record with your mother Elva on your 2005 album Red Beads.
It was an honor to have my Mother, Elva, with me sharing her heart in the studio. We captured real Cheyenne beauty when she was at the microphone. I am saddened by the thought that this cannot happen again—my Mother, Elva Stands In Timber, went home to our Creator in late 2011.
What does it mean to be a famous Cheyenne flutist?
My humble heart wants to give all honors to my people, the elders and especially my Mother.At the same time, I am struck with awe when I think of where my life has gone. I am truly humbled.
Do you still enjoy performing in pow wows? What do they mean to you?
The social fabric of our people is still alive and I look forward to each season with anticipation and excitement.
What is it you talk about in your speaking engagements?
It depends on whom I am addressing. I do inspirational speaking for those who need help in finding their own path. I sometimes speak of overcoming the trials of one’s own existence and clearing a way to live your life in a kind and gentle way. I never forget our relationship with Maheo, the Creator.
What’s up next for you?
I have many primary school and university engagements, solo concerts, and fundraisers coming up, as well as the Summer Solstice Flute Festival (formerly Zion Flute Festival) in Park City, Utah in June. Also on my travels are several pow wows in the New England area.
What about recordings?
I have several projects that I am working on musically, and am not sure which will come to fruition first. So, keep your eyes and ears open for more news on upcoming CDs both on my website and on Facebook. I am also very much looking forward to the 14th Annual Native American Music Awards, where I am nominated in both the best flute recording category and for Artist of the Year. The public is able to vote by visiting NativeAmericanMusicAwards.com/votenow.cfm.
Listen to a performance by FireCrow at the 2010 NAMMYs.
Joseph FireCrow, live at the Winsted Green.