I’m walking through the Barcelona Airport at 4:00 am with a three-foot black-cased lightweight cylinder in my hand. Inside is a Turkish bamboo flute called a ney, used in the Sufi whirling dervish ceremonies started by the poet Rumi centuries ago. It has a beautiful breathy tone. At least when you can actually get it to make a tone.
My friend who gifted it to me couldn’t nor could the other five musicians we were lunching with. Like all flutes, you have to split your air so some goes outside the hole and some goes in, but finding the particular angle for this particular flute seems to be a maddeningly difficult technique.
And yet I like walking with it in my hand in the airport. I like its heft, its roundness, its announcement that there is another secret song waiting to be sung, but I will have to work much harder than I do on the xylophone. In fact, so hard that without dedicated hours per day, hours of frustration and breathy whooshes, that song will remain unsung.
And perhaps that’s what I like about it. We are—or should be—grateful for the secret songs that have come out of hiding and joined us in our daily life, become part of who we are and what we have to offer. Yet perhaps we should also be grateful to know that there are others that still await us, that might require hours or years of nothing happening and then a single silvery tone might some day emerge. Can we repeat it? And what about the fingering?
And so I carry it with me to the Lisbon Airport, tuck it in the overhead compartment for its long ride back to San Francisco, put it next to my modest instrument collection in my home— and we’ll see what happens next.