Ken Light 

Amon Olorin Flutes | Arlee, Montana

Ken’s imagination was captured in the early 1980s by the sound of a traditional Native American flute, and he has continued on a lifelong journey to share with others his fascination with this wonderful instrument and its music.  As a flutemaker, his designs, detailed artisanship and artistic style have continued to set the bar for authenticity, instrumental performance, and impeccable craftsmanship in the rebirth of a nearly lost musical tradition that he has played  an important role in re-creating.

His early flute designs and the introduction of traditional tunings in the mid-eighties has served as a template and inspiration for many of today’s most notable artists and flute-makers. Ken has personally sent out over 8000 instruments into the world, which has helped seed a thriving North American and international community of Native American style flutists. As a dedicated teacher and a lifelong educator, Ken created the first educational programs focused specifically on the NA flute and many of the household names in the flute community are former students and workshop participants.  

In 2 012 Ken was inducted into the Montana Circle of American Masters in Visual Folk and Traditional Arts, a program of the Montana Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts:   “In recognition of artistic excellence in a body of work and contribution to the preservation of the state’s cultural heritage.”

When not in the shop or out on the road, Ken volunteers as an EMT and firefighter with the Arlee Fire Department.  Ken is a father and grandfather, and with his wife of 39 years, Penny, lives and works from a wooded hilltop in the Rockies of Western Montana they have named “Amon Olorin,” hill of dreams.  

Ken’s relationship with each instrument begins with piles of rough-sawn lumber,  cedar from the Pacific Northwest.  

The painstaking discovery of the rare pieces of clear wood with the exceptional grain and color for a flute is met with surprise and gratitude. The wood is taken home and the project begins by making a perfectly sized and matched set of blanks.  The rest of the process is to employ an intent and tools to bring the flute from inside the wood.  Flutes are made in small groups and the process takes most of a month to complete, from layout to carving the inner headpiece and resonating chambers, next to the windways, finger holes, and sound producing mechanism.  Inside each flute is Ken’s signature, flute number, and date. Next, the two halves are mated, more holes are cut, more carving, and then the careful hand shaping of the flute begins with carving and shaping tools and lots of sandpaper.  

The flute then spends a week or so in the finish room, where an all-natural oil from Germany is rubbed by hand into the wood. The finish is then left to air dry and harden before being hand-buffed smooth. The process is then repeated as necessary until the wood glows. Next, the flute is waxed to make it shine. Finally, it’s time to build the little mini-sculpture hardwood block, get out the jeweler’s saw and the needle files to cut and shape the silver plate and adjust and set the voice, wrap beeswaxed linen thread onto the flute, and cut the tie for the block from traditionally brain-tanned and smoked buckskin.  After final assembly and more playing, careful listening, and even more testing, the flute is finally done.   

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