Chaco Canyon

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In the bowels of Chaco Canyon stand the children of an arid plain

Ruinous remnants of tightly fit stones built by continuous and monotonous pain

Their millennia-deep roots have long been pulled by their nameless pueblo mother

The sun-dagger clock ticks silently by the roofless stories, smothering the moans of their slave-drenched father


Chaco Canyon was inspired by my stay with a Navajo friend, Will Tsosie, who has helped a lot of writers write about the Navajo.  Will was able to take me places that most gringos would never find.  We would see Kokopelli etchings of a thousand- year-old microtonal flute player (must be microtonal, if you saw the guy you'd know he was a microtonalist).  I went to Chaco Canyon and saw these dwellingscarved out of canyons.  Will turned to me and he said, 'You know . . . . they didn't do this themselves, they had slaves.'  The Navajo were enslaved to the Anasazi people.

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Chaco Canyon  is the result of that moving encounter, the mood springing from the feel of the place.  I could have gone with the theme of Kokopelli and made a flute piece, a Kokopelli-piece which would have been more, lets say, in a Greek sense,  Dionysian, more wine-like, more fun.  But no; Chaco Canyon is quite a serious, sensitive work, based on three ancient Greek scales written out by Ptolemy in Alexandria around 200 AD. 

The Greeks had their own modulation scheme, but this piece modulates in a way that turns out to be completely modern: any tone can turn into the fundamental of a brand new key, or any step thereof.  I have a metal flute switch to a wooden flute by connection of a whistle.  This is the feeling that I get from the area, a desolate feeling.  A single flute is tiny in New York City, the noisiest place on earth, but huge in New Mexico. 

There's a curious connection I saw during a visit to the Hopi (who may  be the ancestors of the Anasazi).  The Hopi have several flute clans, and yet not a single one of them plays flute.  When I pulled out a real alto recorder, they were absolutely aghast.  They were thrilled, and yet shocked that someone could play it.  So they have this extraordinary, proud connection to the flute, without ever playing it.  And yet it's a very powerful force in their cultural context.

Similarly, the Navajo have a special hour glass drum that is only for their own ceremonies and not for non-Navajo to see or hear.  Music is not always totally public; it can be largely symbolic.

- Johnny Reinhard October 1998