Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Isoka Flutes by Luis Gervasi

Luis Gervasi is a wonderful Isoka flute maker and artist living in San Francisco. I bought several of his hand-crafted Isoka flutes, lovely in both aesthetic and sound. By request of a fellow Isoka flute enthusiast who also purchased a flute from Mr. Gervasi, I am sharing images of the brochure that Mr. Gervasi includes with his flutes. His email is isokaflutes@gmail.com. Be sure to email him to inquire about his glorious sounding flutes if it catches your interest and fancy! Supporting miniature instrument makers is rewarding in many ways. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Miniature Instrument #4: Clay Animal Whistle from Vietnam

Clay whistle from Hoi An in Central Vietnam

This little clay whistle was discovered by my friend Patricia on her trip to Vietnam. She brought it back so I could add a Vietnamese miniature instrument to my collection! What a friend.

She told me that she was walking with her boyfriend along the streets of a town in Central Vietnam called Hoi An when she heard the sound of the whistle. "I stopped dead in my tracks," she wrote me. "What was that?" she asked her boyfriend. Patricia set out to find where the sound was coming from.

"I heard it again, but it came from a different direction," her email to me read. "It was dark, so we couldn't see very well. At a certain point, I felt like a cat chasing a quickly moving fly trying to catch this melodic sound. It ended up that there were several merchants tucked away on stairways and corners selling these whistles. The only way you could find them in the night was to follow their call."

The whistles are shaped as animals, and Patricia chose the tiger for me. Here's a short video she found on YouTube that shows a Vietnamese woman making a whistle out of fresh clay: Clay Whistles in Vietnam

I did some research to find out more about these Vietnamese whistles. According to Nick Ray's e-book, Vietnam, Hoi An was popular for its pottery during imperial times, and craftsmen would make items for the royal court at Hue. Today, the whistles are a way for locals to earn a living. The clay is collected from nearby fields and hand-crafted into whistles, pots and jars, and are mostly sold to tourists visiting Hoi An.

If you happen to know more about these clay whistles from Vietnam, please share it in a comment.


Question: Do you play a whistle, or know someone who does? If so, what kind of whistle is it? Share your whistle story in a comment!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Miniature Instrument #3: Isoka Flute

My dolphin Isoka flute. Hand crafted by Luis Gervasi in San Francisco.

I was visiting my college friends in San Francisco when I discovered the Isoka flute. We were walking down Market Street on a Saturday and came across an outdoor open market of local artists. As we browsed the art, jewelry and photography, I spotted a table with dozens of colorful flutes, some shaped like dolphins and fish. The artist, Luis Gervasi, picked up a dolphin flute and began to play it. The cheerful, bright notes floated through the air and people began to turn and look around in curiosity.

That was it. I was hooked. There was no way I was going home without a few of these flutes. I learned that Luis makes each flute by hand out of clay, and he hand paints them too.

The Isoka flutes, dating back to pre-Columbian civilization, were used by the Mayans and Incas, especially by the ruling elite in ritual. It is intriguing to hold and play a flute that holds so much significance and has survived centuries of time!
Small Isoka flute with the highest tone.

I bought a dolphin flute, a small round one with the highest tone, and a fish. Luis gave me a pamphlet that includes information on the history of the flute, tips for playing, and finger charts for songs to get started with, including Frere Jacques and Guantanamera.

In the pamphlet, Luis writes: "You do not need to be a musician to play Isoka." This made me grin from ear to ear—it spoke directly to my goal to become a miniature instrument expert.

About five months later, I took another trip to San Francisco, and I went downtown to see if I could find Luis and the Isoka flutes again. I did. I had a few questions about technique, and he gave me a short lesson. I learned tips from him that I couldn't have learned on my own, and I was grateful.

If you're ever in San Francisco, stop by the SF Arts Market in the UN Plaza to find Luis Gervasi and his Isoka flutes! I'll provide the email from his pamphlet here: isokaflutes@gmail.com

Luis demonstrates the different tones of his hand-made Isoka flutes. Demo Isoka Flute Tones

Tips on Playing Isoka Flute

1. Isoka flute has six holes: four on top and two on the bottom. The thumbs are placed on the bottom holes, and the index and middle fingers on the top four holes. *Note: use the ring fingers to support the bottom of the flute. This will help when you lift your thumbs to open the bottom holes!

2. Always wear the lanyard. The flute is small and can easily be dropped, so wearing the lanyard will prevent you from accidentally dropping and breaking your flute if you lose grip.

3. "Tongue" each note using short, sharp breaths. Do not blow air continuously as in Tooooooo; each time you change a note you should blow in a Too Too Too way, so that the tongue is tapping the flute's mouth slit. Luis said this is the most important thing to do in order to produce clear notes.

4. Be patient when learning the finger charts. It takes (me) a little while to get the hang of following the open versus closed "tabs." With time and practice, it starts to flow, and your fingers will remember the notes!

5. As Luis explains in the video below, developing a vibrato when playing comes with practice, and it originates in the throat. I've got to get to it now...

Have FUN!

Luis Gervasi gives Jessica a lesson on how to play the Isoka flute. Video of short Isoka lesson

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Miniature Instrument #2: Egg Shaker

The egg shaker is a really fun, simple instrument to play that I recently used in an open mike performance. Well, it's simple in that all you have to do is shake it to get the sound. It's not so simple to keep the beat consistent. The thing with instruments like the shaker or the clave is that they seem simple, but if you get off beat with these instruments, you can definitely hear it. So it does take some practice to keep that rhythm solid.

I'm a storyteller learning how to play miniature instruments so I can use them to add texture to my storytelling performances. If you know of any small instruments that are easy to play, post about it here!

In the meantime, get your own egg shaker and find out how much fun it can be!

Miniature Instrument #2: The Egg Shaker

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Miniature Instrument #1: Tongue Drum

Photo caption: Storyteller Jessica Baris plays the tongue drum while performing a Romanian folktale at the Sam Hinton Folk Fest in Poway, California.

The instrument that started it all for me is the tongue drum. I was walking through the Little Italy Arts Festival in San Diego when I heard musical sounds coming from one of the art booths. I followed the sound and was led to a booth that was filled with dozens of carved wooden boxes that were being played with mallets. I was completely enchanted by the music made from these wooden boxes.

It turns out the makers are a father-son team. They select and carve the wood to create these tongue drums. The son offered me a pair of mallets so that I could play. All I had to do was lightly hit the "tongues" of a drum and out came a melodious sound. Each note lingered in the air and overlapped with the next one played. It was a singing box.

"This is it," I thought. This is what I can use to add music to my storytelling! I was sold. I walked right out of that booth with my first tongue drum.

I really respect and admire musicians for their ability to create beautiful sounds from the instruments they play. As someone with not much natural ability to learn and play an instrument, the tongue drum opened a door to the musical world for me. It gave me the chance to create captivating music with little effort. That was a true gift. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YXscilVxNI

Friday, September 27, 2013

Welcome to The Miniature Instruments Blog!

Yipee! This is my first blog post ever, so this is exciting.

A while ago I decided that my new goal in life is to become a miniature instrument expert. This is what I envision: several years from now, I will have discovered dozens, if not hundreds, of small instruments from around the world, and will be able to name them, know where they originated, and be able to play them!

How did this start? Well, I'm a storyteller. I practice the old art of traditional fireside storytelling. I research folktales from around the world, and when I find stories that resonate with me, I learn them and perform them to audiences. I've performed at festivals, libraries, coffee shops, open mikes -- my stories are for kids and grown-ups. (You are welcome to visit my storytelling site, www.storycharmed.com)

A truly great storyteller can captivate an audience with just her / his voice and performance. But history shows that storytellers were multi-talented -- they were poets, musicians, actors, mimes, singers. . .

So I started to explore ways that I could add texture to my performances. And one way to do that is to add music.

But I am not a musician. I tried to be. When I was in elementary school, I played the flute for two years. I tried really hard, studied the music sheets, but stopped playing eventually. Several years later, my younger brother, who was into the guitar, tried to teach me. I learned a few chords, but got frustrated after a (short) while. I simply lack the patience with learning an instrument and reading music.

Storytelling, however, has brought me back to instruments. I realized one day (I'll share that story soon), that there are instruments out there that I CAN play, that aren't highly complicated and don't require me to read music. I'm just looking for things that are relatively easy to learn and they create interesting and pleasing sounds!

I hope that people discover this blog and participate in discussions about miniature instruments. I'd love for non-musicians to get inspired by the instruments I post about and perhaps pick them up too, and I'd love for serious musicians to jump in as well and offer some advice and thoughts about playing these tiny music makers. Any knowledge anyone can contribute about mini instruments they know about would be, well, GREAT!

I'm Jessica, and I look forward to this blog connecting people who have a passion for instruments -- miniature style!

Here's me doing straight-up storytelling. No instruments, just voice. That will be changing soon. :-) I don't remember what "three" is for -- in folklore, there are lots of threes. Three days, three nights, three kings, three pieces of gold, three wishes...