Playing his own tune
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 2, 2012 02:11
Many times, baccalaureate core courses tend to be run of the mill. You go to class, the teacher hands out a syllabus, and you’re graded on quizzes, homework and tests. There is one baccalaureate core course offered at Oregon State University that stands out from other baccalaureate courses.
MUS 108, Native American flute can be used to satisfy the “cultural diversity” requirement in Oregon State’s baccalaureate core curriculum. Native American flute is taught by Jan Michael Looking Wolf, an enrolled Kalapuya tribal member from Oregon, and a multi-national, award-winning Native American flutist.
“Basically, the whole class is based on oral tradition, and there are two primary objectives,” Looking Wolf said. “One is to look at cultural diversity through the traditions of the Native American flute and one heart. The other is musical self-expression with the Native American flute.”
Students in Native American flute actually learn to play the Native American flute in class.
“As part of the course, each student gets a hand-made wooden flute to keep that is constructed by Native Americans,” Looking Wolf said.
While playing the flute is an integral part of the course, Looking Wolf’s story-telling about Native American culture and the tradition of “one heart” is another.
What is “one heart?” Looking Wolf describes it as an indigenous belief and tradition that “crosses cultural boundaries by reaffirming that everyone is equally important regardless of the color of their skin, shape of their eyes, texture of their hair, spoken language, personal beliefs and income.”
“The Native American tradition of one heart is found in the Declaration of Independence of this country, its ideals are found in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, and the policies of Oregon State University, recognizing equal rights’ significance for all people,” Looking Wolf said.
Colton Surcamp, a sophomore in history, had heard positive reviews about the course from several sources.
“The baccalaureate core is fairly narrow, and I had heard from multiple sources that this was a very good course. It proved to be the right choice,” Surcamp said.
Surcamp strongly credits Looking Wolf for the structure of the class.
“He [Looking Wolf] allows one to break out of their shell,” Surcamp said. “He’s very respectful of self expression.”
Surcamp concluded by saying that the Native American flute class is, “The best class on campus.”
John Neri, a sophomore majoring in business, echoed many of Surcamp’s sentiments about Native American flute.
“You’re not going to find a class where another teacher pours their heart and soul into their course as much as Jan Michael Looking Wolf does.”
Asked whether he would recommend the course to others, Neri said, “of course.”
Looking Wolf has taught at Oregon State University since 2005. He is the only person to have taught Native American flute at Oregon State.
“The class started as a pilot course, and as we developed the curriculum, it became more and more popular and we added more sections,” Looking Wolf said.
Prior to coming to OSU, Looking Wolf had lectured at other universities, and developed curriculum for a workshop.
“Some OSU professors had heard about my workshop, and Dr. Kurt Peters of the ethnic studies department came up and listened to me lecture,” Looking Wolf said. “Between him and Marlan Carlson, then chair of the music department, we drafted the curriculum as a music cultures of the world class, and found that it was the best fit.”
Looking Wolf was born in Portland, and later moved to a Native American reservation.
“It was on the reservation that I learned how to play the flute, many years ago,” Looking Wolf said. “I started playing the flute in a very traditional, cultural way, and later I started recording with it.”
Since then, Looking Wolf has recorded several CDs and earned multiple awards. This past July, he performed and toured in Derry, Northern Ireland.
Looking Wolf is also proud to be a Beaver.
“In all of my travels as a performing artist, and all of the places I’ve lectured across the nation, it is an honor to be part of cultural diversity here at OSU,” Looking Wolf said. “I know firsthand that the administration and staff truly care about providing that opportunity for their students.”
Vinay Ramakrishnan, news reporter