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The City Journals

Flute Making Heals Hearts, Minds

Aug 30, 2016 04:26PM ● By Travis Barton

Bill Hughes has been making flutes for almost 20 years. For the last nine years he’s taught at the Pioneer Craft House. –Travis Barton

While musical instruments create harmony together, Native American flutes impart that harmony to the mind and soul.
At the Pioneer Craft House you’ll find a woodshop run by Bill Hughes where he teaches willing students how to fashion Native American flutes out of wood. He’s been doing so for nearly 10 years.
“Flutes are one of the few instruments that an ordinary person can make and have real music come out of it,” Hughes said.
Native American flutes are different from silver flutes in that silver flutes have keys on it with a differing sound mechanism where the user has to move their lips a certain to produce any sound. With the flutes Hughes makes, the sound is engineered inside the flute requiring only the blow of the user.
“This lends itself to people who have little or no musical background,” Hughes said. 
As opposed to flutes being made in a factory “barely touched by human hands,” Hughes said he feels flutes should be handmade.
“These are very organic instruments…if you do a good job with hand tools you cannot tell the difference,” Hughes said.
Hughes, who holds a doctorates in family therapy from BYU, made his first flute almost 20 years ago after undergoing a life-changing heart surgery. A consequence of that operation left Hughes missing parts of his memory.
“I couldn’t remember very well the dynamics in a family and sometimes couldn’t even remember my client’s names,” Hughes, a native of Shreveport, La. said.
Hughes turned in his therapy license wondering what was next. Having always loved the sound of flutes, Hughes did research, experimenting with making flutes before eventually becoming skilled enough to make how-to DVD’s. Hughes still receives phone calls regarding his videos requesting his presence to run workshops.
In Hughes’ woodshop at the Pioneer Craft House, he generally teaches people in a one-on-one environment.
“Which makes [the process] move faster,” Hughes said estimating it takes one person approximately 12 hours to create a flute.
While Hughes owns three flutes, he has made about 8,000 since he started. Six of those were used to play in the opening ceremony of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Two Japanese drum troupes use his flutes in their performances.
But for Hughes, all of that pales in comparison to working with veterans.
“The thing that’s nearest to my heart is the vets. They have been through so much and gotten so little back,” Hughes said.
For a few years, Hughes holds discounted classes for veterans as part of the Veterans Healing through Art program. The process of making the flutes along with the sounds those flutes create has proven very helpful, especially for those with PTSD.
“There’s something about that sound that just brings them down,” Hughes said.
Hughes teaches 10 veterans, one of whom has made nine flutes. A social worker from the Veterans Affairs Hospital said the mindfulness of other senses helps the veterans take away focus from what’s going on in their heads.
“[The sound] lends itself to like playing in caves, or an outdoorsy kind of a feeling to it, and they like that,” Hughes said.  
It also gives them a sense of accomplishment, the social worker said.
“When someone says, ‘Did you make that?’ they can answer, ‘Yes I made it,’ and they know what that means,” Hughes said.
Hughes spent years working in private practice with youth corrections. He said he believes there is a correlation between therapy and flutes.
“I get far more therapy done with the flutes than I ever did running my mouth,” Hughes said. “All this therapy coming out of your mouth comes from your brain and flutes don’t. We call it playing from the heart.”
Hughes said he thinks that evokes more in a person than “talking psychology.”
“It comes straight out of your physical consciousness of the world, of yourself and of other people,” Hughes said.