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Out With Kids: Learn to make, play Native American flute at Bellingham library program

Hear the haunting song of the Native American flute and see how the traditional instrument is made in two free presentations for audiences of all ages.

Artist and teacher Peter Ali discusses his instrument and his craft in “Native American Flute — Playing and Making,” from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, and 1 to 3 p.m. Friday, Jan. 16, in the SkillShare space across from the self-serve checkout stands at, 210 Central Ave.

Ali, an instructor at Northwest Indian College, will demonstrate how the flutes are played and how they are made from pre-bored and pre-tuned kits made by in Washington.

“They are made out of the traditional wood, red cedar,” said Ali, who is part Yaqui Indian on his mother’s side. “Essentially, you have a square piece of wood with finger holes.”

He uses a small hand planer to shape the corners and make the flute round, then uses sandpaper of progressively finer grit to smooth them. He paints the wood or uses a woodburning tool – sometimes even Sharpie markers – to decorate his flutes.

“I give my students a basic example — this is what a flute looks like — and then they finish it,” Ali said.

Finally, the flutes are finished with several applications of polyurethane coating.

“When you play the flute, your warm breath causes condensation,” he said. “If you don’t coat them, they will crack.”

Ali said the flute is a a simple instrument that can only produce a few notes, but its voice reaches across the ages. In American Indian culture, flutes were used for courting among the Plains tribes and for ceremonies in the southeast.

“The flute itself is simple to play, it’s like a recorder,” he said. “Native flutes are traditionally tuned to the voice of the maker. Traditionally, you play from the heart. You can’t go wrong on the notes.”

Hear him play

• Hear Ali perform in several YouTube videos, including



• For more information about the program, contact Jenni Johnson at

or 360-778-7217.