The Native American flute, Douglas Spotted Eagle believes, is a sacred instrument, "and you can hear that whether it's on the radio, television or a cassette at home . . . the music does something to your soul."
Certainly, that seems to be the effect of Spotted Eagle's own flute playing."His music provides a tranquility in an environment of high-rises," explains Angela Swensen, his agent.
In the year since its commercial debut, Spotted Eagle's first album, "Sacred Feelings" - at once earthborn and ethereal - has become something of a phenomenon, one affecting both those who hear it and the Salt Lake musician himself. A second album, "Legend of the Flute Boy," soon followed, and now a third, "Canyonspeak," recorded in Mesa Verde National Park, is about to be released.
A Lakota Sioux/Anglo raised in Iowa, Spotted Eagle's heartfelt respect for Indian traditions and for nature shows in his music and his life. Yes, he says in his quiet, careful way, he lives in metropolitan Salt Lake City; "however, my lifestyle certainly isn't an urban lifestyle."
With his wife, who is Navajo, Spotted Eagle lectures on Indian culture, dances the traditional dances and tells the venerable stories and legends. He wants non-Indians to becomemore familiar with the traditions and understand the differences between white and Indian cultures. And he wants Native Americans - many of whom, because of the erosions of 20th-century life, have begun to lose their links to the past - to share in and help preserve the fading traditions.
One legend, the subject of his second album, tells of the flute's origins:
"In Lakota belief," Spotted Eagle says, "the flute was a gift from the woodpecker and the wind to a lonely young man. The woodpecker and the wind gave him a red-cedar flute, and with it he was able to win the heart of the girl he loved. He passed the flute on to his son, and he used it in the same manner, and taught it to others.
"It is said: The one who plays the flute steals the heart of the person who hears it.
"The flute, to my grandfathers and to their grandfathers, was a sacred instrument," Spotted Eagle adds. Although an aid in courtship, it was also used in sacred ceremonies and healing ways . . . ways now forgotten. Those who used it for evil purposes were believed to die.
Point out that his music may descend from both the romantic and spiritual traditions and Spotted Eagle will agree. He cherishes the "centering" effect of the music, the way it helps both musician and listener in their quest for balance in life.
An Indian, he says, seeks "the plain" of four personal states: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. "Being able to walk all of those at the same time places one in the center. That's what we try for. Our playing is very much a part of that."
Then he adds, "However strange it sounds to you, when the music comes forth, I'm simply the player. Many of these songs come from more than seeing people on the street; they come from deep inside, almost another world. They're very calming, very relaxing. They help you be able to focus on what the center is."
In fact, the flute seems that have played just such a role in Spotted Eagle's own life.
Several years ago, at a difficult time, "I came across a young man who made flutes and asked him to teach me. To be honest with you, I didn't know how to play." Eventually he learned, though, and added music to his storytelling about four years ago.
He now plays 15 different flutes, of varying pitches and for different songs, though not the classical European instrument. "I can blow it and make it squeak."
Then, just last year, "I felt like I needed to make a tribute to someone, to two people. I went to a small local studio to record some songs, and gave this to friends as well as these two people."
A copy made its way to a record company, which made inquiries. Spotted Eagle checked out a few more companies and signed with Sound of America Records - SOAR - an ethnic label based in Albuquerque.
That album, "Sacred Feelings," expanded and intermixing spine-tingling flute and natural and synthesized sound effects, was at first available primarily in trading posts and Indian outlets, Spotted Eagle says.
"Then they received an order from a new age distributor, and BAM! It just immediately took off. . . . It did, and is doing, extremely well."
The music apparently appeals to those seeking a soothing escape from the stresses and strains of modern life - and maybe a way to tap into a larger spirituality.
" `Sacred Feelings' opened doors to an audience I didn't know existed and - I don't know how to say this - I don't write for them. I write for myself," the musician says.
Many listeners praise the elemental songs for what they perceive as their healing quality, but Spotted Eagle disclaims any specific intent in that direction.
"Unfortunately, because the music is very healing, people think I'm a holy man or spiritual leader, and I am none of those things. I am responsible for my life and my circle only.
"In many ways I'd never wish some of the things on anyone; but . . . it's not very often you get to help other people while doing something for yourself. It's definitely gratifying."
His new album, "Canyonspeak," has no synthesizers, no non-acoustic instrumentation, he says. He's pleased with the emotional impact of the new music, recorded in three days in Mesa Verde.
"The National Park Service was gracious enough to grant us permits to go where the public was not allowed and where they are not doing any work. On the final day we wanted to record in Cliff Palace, the largest of the ruins, and went in very early. The mood was so emotional and so spiritual, it was very powerful - and we went three hours over." Tourists started arriving, but they listened quietly.
"You could hear the flute echoing in the canyon over. It was absolutely gorgeous, a beautiful experience."