When Jonny Lipford played his first native American flute, he didn’t realize the success he’d find.
He’d discovered the flute while watching cartoons.
“I saw this character playing a brown flute. It had a different sound than anything I’ve ever heard before ... A quality of sound and soulfulness that no other instrument can produce,” he said.
Then on Christmas Day 2002, Lipford, 13, unwrapped his future. His first flute.
“I fell in love,” he said.
Fast-forward 13 years to find the now-26-year-old Florida-native with about 125 world flutes and a name already made for himself both locally and internationally as a native American flutist.
Lipford landed in Cedar Rapids three years ago and immediately began playing around town. He’d perform 150 shows and tour 32 states and Canada each year before landing a full-time job as a marketing specialist with Habitat for Humanity’s Restore in Cedar Rapids.
The full-time gig slowed him down, but hasn’t stopped him from continuing to find time to perform.
He frequently plays at Prairiewoods Spirituality Center in Hiawatha, as well as churches, yoga studios, coffee shops, farmers markets, festivals — such as Sweetgrass Flute and Nature Festival at Prairiewoods Sept. 25-27 — and hospitals.
He particularly enjoys playing at children’s hospitals, where he spent a great deal of his own childhood due to damaging ear infections — he’s had more than 30 surgeries, including implantation of an artificial ear drum. Drawing from his own experiences, he knows how scary it can be for children and parents in the hospital and how valuable it can be to provide relief.
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“To go in an provide music for the kids, seeing their faces light up ... It’s a really rewarding experience,” he said. “I had no idea that this little instrument would take me so many places, allow me to experience so much, connect with so many people and ultimately help people.”
He also teaches lessons worldwide via Skype. Right now he has 10 students, but has taught “well over 250” from France, Australia, Canada and elsewhere, he said.
The instrument is easy to play. No need for intensive training, he said. You simply blow into the mouthpiece and experiment.
“I learned to play the flute by myself,” Lipford said. “I just started making all these sounds and doing these little techniques and flutters and things like that.”
He listened to other flute players, too, before finding a style he liked.
“Everybody has their own voice,” he said, describing his as a blend of traditional and contemporary.
He thinks it’s important to preserve traditional native American flute music while also “expanding on its uniqueness.”
He also wants to reach audiences a traditional flutist might not with his more contemporary styles.
“I come in with a different twist on the music,” he said. “I’m a very versatile instrumentalist. I can certainly provide relaxing, New Age-style music but also have more fun doing outside-of-the-box stuff.”
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For example, Lipford is in the process of releasing his 14th album in November, which he said is going to be “like Maroon 5, B.B. King and Kenny G got together and jammed.”
All his songs are originals. Music is a way for him to “express what (he’s) feeling,” he said — a “vessel” for his emotions. And, he said, the flute can be very therapeutic.
“It’s relaxing and reaches people in different ways,” he said. “You kind of capture them with the sound of this instrument, and they become infatuated. They get hooked.”
See Lipford (and others) live
What: Sweetgrass Flute and Nature Festival
When: Sept. 25-27
Where: Prairiewoods Spirituality Center, Hiawatha
Details: Four headliners, six additional performers and 24 vendors
Cost: $5 per day for adults, $1 per day for children. Free on Sunday for the Nature Festival
Other upcoming Jonny Lipford performances:
Sept. 19, 10 a.m., Downtown Cedar Rapids Farmers Market
Oct. 4, 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., Grove Fest in Glenview, Ill.
Nov. 9, Praise the Creator Concert in Hiawatha
More information can be found at www.jonnylipfordmusic.com