On a recent cloudy morning near the pond at Greenbank Farm, the ducks were being serenaded with “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” from the musical “Oklahoma.”
“Well, I wanted it to be more of a beautiful morning for that song,” said the man floating the tune over the water with his flute.
Clinton resident Carlos Xavier, a musician, flute maker and storyteller, who said he’d rather play an old song to touch the heart of one person, rather than play for the glory of a huge audience, had purposefully floated the song across the water. Touching someone with a song or a story is part of his reason to live, he said, to make a memorable moment with his art.
Xavier will perform jazz standards and other ditties on flute and piano from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7 during Taste For Wine tasting room’s Sunday afternoon performance series at Bayview Corner. (He takes requests.)
The retired Xavier has been playing the flute since high school, when he decided on the instrument for its ease in travel.
“The flute has always been my love; along with traveling,” Xavier said.
And although perhaps Xavier could have made music his profession when he began that course of study in college, he realized it was not the right career path for him. With his affinity also for math, he eventually found the world of the computer industry, stuck to it and ended up being able to take an early retirement to pursue what he mainly loved; music, telling stories and travel.
He and his wife Mardell have been all around the world, and, of course he always packs a flute. He bought his first bamboo flute for $1 from a street vendor in San Francisco and has played it everywhere from the train stations of Europe, to the most exotic of caves, where he said it sounds quite wonderful.
Xavier knew he would one day like to try his hand at making bamboo flutes, and indeed began that hobby about four years ago, influenced as he is by his travels.
“I’d put off making them for most of my life and decided it was time,” he said.
His small, flutes feature Asian landscapes, sailing ships and castles, the places in the world that have left an indelible mark on the traveling artist. He uses drawing and wood burning techniques to create the pictures on the wood. The sizes are different, the holes are different, and the pitch is different on each one. He said he fiddles around with making the holes and adjusts them to the pitch so he can come as close to the diatonic scale as he can get.
“That allows me to be able to play with other instruments; guitars on beaches and that sort of thing,” he said.
“I love the sound of a bamboo flute. It’s so natural and connects me with my natural surroundings,” Xavier said as he gave a slight trill of his flute.
The Portuguese and Chinese Xavier was born in Hong Kong and discovered his storytelling talent when he took a job as a guide on a Netherlands/Scandinavian tour. As a tour director he traveled by bus from Holland to Switzerland through six countries in the span of two weeks for several seasons. His captive audiences on the buses helped him to hone his skills as a gifted teller.
“There are so many legends of Europe; this castle, that moat,” he said. “I would begin telling those histories with ‘Once upon a time in a castle on the hill…’ which is so much more interesting than: ‘The population of Switzerland, etc. …’” he noted.
He would memorize the scenes and stories of the places on the tour in his mind and each time the story would come out a little different than the last; fresh and spontaneous. The travelers loved it, the tour company loved it and, although he loved it most of it, after seven seasons Xavier had had enough of that gig.
“I got burned out,” he said.
But he couldn’t give up storytelling altogether, because that was something he felt he was meant to do. Later, while living in Port Angeles, he discovered a program called Stagebridge in which retired folks volunteer to go into the local schools and tell stories to young children.
“I tell mainly the fairy tales of Europe; the Brothers Grimm and such; ethnic tales and any tale in which I can incorporate music such as “The Pied Piper,” he said.
He pulled up a list on his smart phone of more than 100 stories that he tells to children and adults, which includes stories with enticing titles such as “The Girl Who Ate the Fox in One Bite,” “Deserted Island,” “The Great Smelly Small-Toothed Dog,” and “The Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle.”
Lately in the storytelling world, Xavier said, there is a new push to tell one’s own personal stories.
Xavier’s father was a prisoner of war during the Japanese internment in Hong Kong where he was held for more than 3 years at the Sham Shui Po Barracks. It was after the attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The next day, the Japanese attacked Hong Kong and later that same day, Malaya. Xavier knew he had to tell the story of his father’s experience, one his father never discussed. He did the research and took a risk.
As a featured teller at a recent session of a Port Angeles storytelling group Xavier told his first personal story, “A Day in the Life of a Prisoner of War at Sham Shui Po.”
“These were older people and could relate to World War II, and it went over very well,” Xavier said.
Relating to people, touching a heart here or there, is what Xavier said inspires him the most to perform. He related an experience of having played a special request for an audience member recently, including “It’s Been A Long, Long Time,” which made this woman cry for the memory it gave her of her deceased husband.
“I would much rather affect one person rather than play generally for people. Those are the ones I remember. It makes it worthwhile,” Xavier said.
Now that he and Mardell are living on Whidbey Island, Xavier is performing and showing his flutes at various local venues and galleries, including today at Taste For Wines from 3 to 5 p.m. at Bayview Corner.
Also, his flutes were recently shown during DjangoFest Northwest at the lobby gallery at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, curated by artist Cary Jurriaans of the Whidbey Island Fine Arts Studio.
His bamboo flutes will be on display at Christina’s Island Real Estate & Fine Art at 1592 E. Main St. across the street from Payless Food Store with an opening on Friday, Oct. 19 and on display there through January 2013.
Also, on the first Wednesday of each month St. Hubert Catholic Church offers a Taizé Prayer Service of music and readings at which Xavier often plays his flute.
Visit the Carlos Xavier member page and consider joining this artist and becoming a member of Whidbey Life Magazine or support the magazine by buying an ad, making a donation or becoming a sponsor.
Go to Taste For Wine here.