Siyotanka By Michael DeMaria

Siyotanka is an ancient American Indian legend that explains the origin of the Native American courting flute. It is a coming-of-age story, a boy's vision quest to find his personal 'soul song' and become a man, and an allegorical message of the importance of music and artistic expression to society. Now it also is a musical recording by multi-instrumentalist, psychologist and soul guide Michael Brant DeMaria.

DeMaria - who plays indigenous flutes, keyboards and percussion - has created instrumental music (with a little native chanting) that tells the tale of Siyotanka (the Lakota Indian word for 'flute, ' or more literally 'great song').

Over the course of a dozen tunes, DeMaria presents an ancient native world where the boy, Takoda, leaves his village on a journey that brings life-altering encounters with Nuka the woodpecker, the sage owl Hinhan, and the great elk Hexaka. When Nuka pecks holes in the limb of a cedar tree to get to the termites, the wind blows through the holes and Takoda hears the first flute sound. He makes the tree-limb into a flute, learns to play it and takes it back to his tribe.

Michael Brant DeMaria's Siyotanka CD and his other music can be purchased at his website ( as well as at online stores such as or, and at numerous digital download locations including and Native American charities receive 10 percent of the profits from the sale of DeMaria's CDs.

DeMaria has played onstage accompanying performers well-known in the Native American and new age musical genres including R. Carlos Nakai, Mary Youngblood, Jeff Ball, Bill Miller, Peter Phippen, Coyote Oldman, Ash Dargan, Raymond Redfeather, and David Darling. DeMaria's debut album, The River, received international airplay and acclaim as a top album for music therapy, massage, meditation, relaxation, acupuncture treatments, stress management and 'soul guiding.' The CD also was the first release in DeMaria's Ontos Healing Sound Project Series. A second CD in the series, Ocean, has been readied for release later in 2009.

The music of Siyotanka (pronounced see-yoh-tahn-kah) was created as the soundtrack to an original play written by DeMaria and another psychologist, Stephen C. Lott, who also created the artwork for the CD cover. The play premiered at the historic Pensacola Theatre in Florida with eight sold-out performances. DeMaria performed the music onstage as part of the cast. The production (including DeMaria's musical score) won seven Crystal Awards.

A wide-variety of Native American wooden flutes were used in creating the music on Siyotanka with the higher-toned instruments representing the woodpecker and other birds, the mid-range encapsulating the adventures of the young Indian, and low bass notes evoking the owl and elk. Also heard are drums, wood-rattles and other percussion. The tunes 'Grandfather' and 'Branched Horn' feature both intricate rhythmic drumming and tribal chanting. 'The Quest' contains acoustic-piano gently woven together with flute, while 'Beyond The Known' is faster-paced utilizing the sound of acoustic guitar. Intermingled within the music are the sounds of thunder and rain ('The Dream'), crickets, bird trills and eagle cries.

The Siyotanka story, told here through music, has deep spiritual, philosophical and sociological meanings. 'Ultimately, the story works as a metaphor for our life journey as we grow, explore and deal with our fears, ' explains DeMaria. 'It is especially touching because Takoda is a different kind of warrior. It is his sensitivity, spirituality and artistic nature that wins the day, not brute strength. Instead of creating a weapon out of wood, he crafts a flute to bring beauty and love into the world. This is a message we need today.'

DeMaria was uniquely suited to create the music of Siyotanka because of his training as a psychologist and 'soul guide, ' his years of participating in and leading wilderness vision quests, and his lifelong study of music as a therapeutic tool for healing and growing. On his way to his first personal vision quest in Glacier National Park in Canada, guided by a Blackfoot elder, Michael purchased an album by R. Carlos Nakai and fell in love with the heartfelt and natural sounds of the Native American flute. Although already proficient as a pianist and percussionist, DeMaria soon began incorporating flute into his music and playing it at weekly spirituality meetings. This led to performances at large flute gatherings (Musical Echoes in Florida, Zion Canyon Art and Flute Festival in Utah, and the International Native American Flute Association conventions in Taos and San Francisco). He additionally started using flute music in both private therapy sessions and group workshops. DeMaria also is the author of three books - an academic text (Horns and Halos: Towards the Blessings of Darkness), a personal growth book for general readership (Ever Flowing On: Being and Becoming One's Self) and a book of poetry (Moments).

When he was seven-years-old, Michael began using music for his own healing of surgery trauma. At first he simply played self-soothing notes on the piano, but he was soon taking classical lessons (Bach, Scarlotti). However, from the beginning Michael found true joy in improvising and creating his own music. Seeing a jazz concert at age nine propelled Michael into drumming and percussion which he pursued in his school's jazz band. His early musical influences ranged from jazz (Buddy Rich, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock) to pop music (Elton John, Simon & Garfunkel). DeMaria was heavily inspired in his late-teens when he first heard the solo piano improvisations of Keith Jarrett followed by the new age Windham Hill and Fresh Aire recordings.

Born in Norwalk, Connecticut, and raised in nearby Wilton, Michael moved to Gulf Breeze, Florida (near Pensacola) when he was 15. He graduated from high school early and at age 17 went to the progressive New College (The Honors College of Florida) where he primarily studied chemistry and math, although he spent most of his free time creating music with his best-friend, guitarist Bill Schulz. DeMaria became fascinated not only with ethnic instruments (from taking an ethno-musicology course) but also with synthesizers (Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons Project, Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre). DeMaria bought an early Moog synthesizer and began taking more music courses.

Eventually DeMaria decided to move to the University of West Florida, concentrate on psychology and philosophy, and use music as his artistic outlet and ongoing personal therapy. He graduated at age 20 with two Bachelor Degrees. At Duquesne University in Pittsburgh he received his Masters at age 21 and his PhD when he was 24. While his academic focus was on psychology, he continued taking music courses and began recording original music (five albums that he only shared with family and friends). His musical tastes broadened to include George Winston, Miles Davis, Tibetan monk chants, Romanian gypsy music, African poly-rhythms, Japanese shakuhachi flute sounds and ambient recordings.

Dr. DeMaria became a practicing clinical psychologist. At first he devoted himself to working with abused children and their families (more than 2, 000 cases), but after a decade he began guiding adults on their life journeys, helping them in moving towards wholeness, living in balance and becoming more conscious, compassionate and creative. His healing practices incorporate nature, creativity and spirituality particularly utilizing journaling, meditation and artistic expression, along with play therapy and music therapy. He founded ONTOS (the Greek word for 'being'), a consulting company and center for research, teaching and training in the healing practices he has developed. DeMaria also serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of West Florida, the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology and the Institute for Integrative Health.

'I first heard the story of Siyotanka on my first vision quest,' remembers DeMaria. 'I came to realize it is a mythic, archetypal legend about bringing art to civilization, but also a story about a boy becoming a man by opening his heart and finding his soul song, the individual song we all carry within us. For the American Indians, the flute became part of the courting ritual. But before men and women join in marriage, they need to find themselves, listen to their soul and discover what they have to offer to the world. I hope this music will help lead people on that journey of self-discovery.'

write your comments about the article :: 2009 Jazz News :: home page