The Journey of Geri Littlejohn: Flutemaker, Musician, Ceremonial Healer

I met Geri Littlejohn several years back while on a quest to learn how to play the Native Flute; it seemed that the Universe had heard my heart’s request. As I sat on Geri’s couch one summer afternoon listening to her play, my heart welled up and tears of joy flowed down my cheeks. When she handed me a flute I hesitatingly took it, wondering if I could ever make it sing the way she did.

geriThe native flute has been used for generations to produce music and so much more: healing, inspiration, connection to source, community. [Music: the vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion. (Oxford dictionary)]

“The sound of the native flute is powerful, its song more moving than words, yet it’s such a simple instrument to play,” says Geri. “All you need to do is tap your fingers and blow. It’s more than a musical instrument; it’s an instrument of transformation, a direct connection to nature, to our hearts. It’s a very simple instrument; it’s a stick with six holes in it. And yet, its music can uplift us, move us, heal us. It’s an instrument that allows you to express yourself, to share your innermost feelings and from time to time, on special occasions, allows the Universe to speak through you. When we shut down the inner chatter we become an open vessel for the flute to speak.”

Geri has been a flute maker for 23 years. That journey began when she met Hawk LittleJohn, a flute maker, while at Duke University. After graduating, the job she thought was being created for her didn’t get funded and fell through. “I remember sitting on my back steps watching the sun go down and thinking that all my previous commitments were done, the future was wide open and anything could happen. I decided to go walk on Hawk’s land nearby to gain clarity about what to do next. After a long connecting walk down deer paths in tall grass, I sat down on the porch swing outside Hawk’s workshop and he appeared a few minutes later. He asked if I would like to work for him sanding flutes. I had taken wood shop in junior high school and loved the class; I said yes. Three days later, I sat down and got dusty and I’ve been making flutes ever since.”

Geri and Hawk eventually married and settled into the rhythm of making flutes, working side by side in their greenhouse, and doing Ceremony together. They worked long hours at a craft they both loved and developed a reputation for fine instruments with sweet voices. With the release of R. Carlos Nakai’s “Canyon Trilogy,” demand grew. They began experimenting with making flutes in many pitches and different configurations. “We were part of the movement that took the native flute from a folk instrument to one that could be played with other instruments, taught in schools, and featured in symphonies.” They made flutes together for eight years. In May 2000, Hawk was diagnosed with cancer. When Hawk was close to dying, he said to me, ‘One day you are going to be better known as a flute player than a maker.’ I laughed at him, but it stuck in my head and planted a seed.

geri2“A few years later, a musician friend encouraged me to play more, to stop being stingy with my gift. ‘Just say yes whenever anyone asks you to play.’ So I started saying yes to opportunities to play as service. Those ‘yeses’ took me a lot of places: nursing homes, memorial services, births, weddings, deathbeds, yoga studios, meetings at non-profits, and local festivals.”

Geri says Hawk’s premonition was right on. “I’m surprised at how often when I meet someone locally, they look at me and say, aren’t you that flute player…?” Geri’s transformation from flute maker/player to maker/performer started when her friend, well-known Native Flute Player and Grammy award winner Mary Youngblood, asked if she would do a duet with her at the Potomac Flute Festival where Geri was selling her flutes. “I said yes, thank you. As I was sitting in the audience waiting to join her, I asked myself, do you want to go up on that stage as Mary’s friend Geri the flute maker? Or do you want to go up on the stage like you belong there? I realized that I wanted to go on stage to offer my music and love of the flutes I make. I came home and asked producer Mark Fields to ask Peter Kater, ten time Grammy award nominee, who pairs his masterful piano playing with the flute playing of R Carlos Nakai, if he would let me play a song at his Jubilee performance. To my delight, he invited me to play three songs with him.

“When I perform, I open up sacred space. I play very simply. The flute-maker side of me allows the flutes themselves to sing and let whatever wants to be expressed at that moment be expressed while speaking directly to the hearts of the people listening. My first flute teacher was Hawk and he always said, ‘If you couldn’t sing, the flute is your other voice.’ Hawk would also say, ‘Keep ego out of the way and become a hollow bone.’

“I really focus on that. I ask that Spirit keep me out of it and that the listener receives whatever they need at that moment. Each time I play a healing sound concert or simply offer up a song as prayer, I call upon my years of participating in Ceremony. As I work with flutes in an intentional way, I begin to understand how important vibration is – how everything vibrates at a different frequency. By working with these frequencies, energy can be shifted. Music heals – the body, mind, and spirit. A low flute can connect a listener with the earth that supports us, nourishes us, and gives us life. A clear, high pitched flute speaks directly to our spirits. As a wind instrument, the flutes remind us to breathe.

“The whole experience is an inner journey. When we play the Native Flute, there is always an invitation to center, to release and to receive, and then to integrate. When I play a concert, it is my hope that the listeners leave feeling lighter, more loving, more connected, nourished, awake and aware.

“Trees are some of my best teachers. They are my friends. Within the trees there are all the elements: sunlight, wind, water, the sound of the birds. They’re rooted in the earth and teach us about the value of stillness, show us how to dance in one place. I often speak about our relationship with trees. We are each others’ lungs. Every time the trees exhale, we inhale. When we sing or play a wind instrument, our exhale is music. Working with wood keeps me deeply connected, grounded, rooted. I started making flutes from branches about eight years ago. They force me to work with what is. It’s an amazing thing to take a branch and help it have a voice.”

Native flutes are actually instruments of transformation. “Yes, they play music but are so much more. When I am working with someone to craft a custom flute, I spend time to see what’s going on in his or her life. I ask why they want a flute and what they hope to do with it. I think about that person and their dreams while working, allowing time to be part of the formula. Some flutes I make because a piece of wood calls out to me.

“When a flute is done, I sign it by burning two Lakota words on the mouthpiece in opposite directions; Wicozani, meaning wholeness or well-being, and Pilamaye, meaning gratitude. As the breath is exhaled through the flute, it passes by the word pilamaye/gratitude. I am grateful for my life. As I inhale, I draw in Wicozani. The two are always in flow; the more gratitude we have, the more we feel well-being and the more gratitude we share, the more we spread well-being. It is my hope that each player feels these two energies. It’s an invitation to express gratitude for life and in return receive well-being, like sacred reciprocity.

“When a person purchases a flute I share the tools that will help them experience and explore it. I don’t give a set of exercises but help them remember how to be expressive. They are also welcome to come by the studio to get pointers. I have encouraged people to find their own branch for a branch flute. One woman did; she knew just the tree, a mulberry her father had planted. She wanted a flute to play for her daughter who was having her first child. It sat there for the longest time and I didn’t feel compelled to work on it. One day I received this call saying her daughter had miscarried. I thought, ‘Wow, I can’t make this high pitched flute now because they are grieving.’ Later I got the go ahead internally to start it, so cut the branch in two and spent time working on it. Shortly after, I received a phone call from the woman saying her daughter was pregnant again. I sent the flute and she was able to play it when her granddaughter was born. She went on to use the flute to work with abused children and so for her, it wasn’t just about the flute. It totally transformed her life and gave her purpose to make this huge difference in the world.

“Before there was the word there was vibration according to Sufi belief. Many of the Lakota songs are ‘vocables’ and have no words but even in the ones with words, the vibration comes first. The vibration of the flute goes everywhere and I have learned to focus more on playing for healing. I just want to play a loving energy while feeling joyous and hearing the sound coming out. In the end, if that is all I did, that would be enough. It’s a gift.”

With Geri’s tutelage and encouragement I gained the confidence to play the native flute… to connect at the heart level with this beautiful instrument of transformation, which was a lifelong dream. At the moment I am patiently and eagerly awaiting the birthing of my new flute! Thank you Geri for what you have imparted to me and the healing vibration of your flutes that touches our community and the world!

The music plays on with Geri Littlejohn:

Geri has a solo CD, “One Thursday Morning in June,” which can be purchased by request. She enjoys playing at weddings, funerals, hospitals, births, festivals, meetings, public and private events, ceremonies, and retreats. Geri is in the process of birthing the “New Moon Live Stream Concert” series for this fall. Participants will light candles and set intentions while listening to Geri live, playing the flute with intention. How powerful that will be for 1000s of people to be opening their intentions in their own homes on the new moon while manifesting what they really want in their lives. Check her website for more information.

You can hear Geri perform live at several places in Asheville. On July 18th she will be playing at The Salt Cave on Eagle Street. Check her website for future events and sign up for her monthly newsletter to keep you updated on her whereabouts. Geri can be contacted via her website: or by phone 828-715-0277.

Sophia Noll, a Life Guide/Mentor lives in the Asheville area and has been transforming people’s lives for over ten years from Maine to Asheville. When she’s not coaching and writing she enjoys spending time photographing her passion… Nature! See April’s cover and this month’s cover for a sample and at her website: Sophia cherishes time spent with friends, hiking, gardening, and her therapy dog Kaylee. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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