Interview with Ann Licater – A North American Flutist

Ann Licater is an international recording artist, “Flute for the Soul” workshop facilitator, and world flutist from the San Francisco Bay area. Her latest album, Doorway to a Dream, released in July 2010 is currently #3 on Zone Music Reporter the New Age radio chart. Following The Call, her 2007 debut CD, was nominated for Best Native American Album and Top Twelve Best Contemporary Instrumental Album in that year’s New Age Reporter Lifestyle Music Awards.

Ann’s music is featured on the nationally-syndicated radio show Hearts of Space, Echoes on Public Radio International, and nationwide on Soundscapes, a Music Choice cable radio channel. During her live concerts and workshops — booked through her Cul de Sac Mystic Productions — Ann performs on a dozen or more hand-crafted, indigenous Native American and world flutes made of wood and clay. She holds a B.A. from University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN and a M.L.A. degree in Creation Spirituality from Naropa University in Boulder, CO. Ann’s music is available for purchase at New Age music and book retailers, as well as online at and Connect with Ann online at, and

Ann Licater
Ann Licater- World Flutist (Photo by: Greg Crowder)

We had an email interview with Ann.

Q1. Tell us something about your early days. How you were attracted to music?

Music has always been a part of my life.  My parents encouraged all of us kids to play an instrument so I chose silver flute.  At that time, the influential flute players were Tim Weisberg, Paul Horn and Ian Anderson; so I think the improvisational nature of their playing really affected me.  I am naturally attracted to improvisational performances because they are so organic.  Also, my father loved jazz and had a great jazz record collection.  He grew up in New York City so he had access to see and hear amazing talent.  My dad took our family to live-events beginning when I was 5 or 6.  My mom studied classical piano and was an accomplished accordion player as was her mother. Music runs in our family and was a big influence in my early days.

Q2. Given the variety of musical instruments available and the generation moving towards more technology-based ones, how it came that you picked up a traditional and native instrument, so delicate and soothing?

I picked up my first Native American flute at the Stanford Powwow held in a beautiful eucalyptus grove on the Stanford University campus.  I heard the most beautiful and soothing sound of a flute and followed it to a booth where I purchased the first of many indigenous wood and clay flutes. I was really drawn to the sound.  I live in the heart of technology and within a multi-cultural metropolis being in the San Francisco Bay area and Silicon Valley, so perhaps for me the traditional instruments are especially noticeable.  The soothing sounds of Native American and world flutes transcend the material world so in a way they pierce through the techno-babble offering a reminder of our natural world. However, I do not avoid technology. In fact I use it in my music. In my recordings and live performances, you will hear the sounds of a canyon or vast expanse of nature through reverb and delay effects. Merging the ancient and the modern is exciting.

Q3. Tell us how you grew as a classical musician? How and where you received your training and how was the experience to devote so much time to music?

I am not a classical musician per se.  I am a world flutist with classical training. I trained at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis and played with the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra for a season.  My private teacher was a principal flutist in a regional orchestra.  She did note early on that I liked to play the classical pieces in my own way.  During my lessons, I wasn’t always playing in metered time which was my natural inclination to improvise and have the music more my own.  The Native American flute is played in parlando style which is a natural extension of my wanting to express my own meter. Formal musical training and devotion to music gives you the basics so you can create from a solid foundation.

My classical teacher also introduced me to harmonics which was a fascinating thing me–to play one note and over blow it creating layers and layers of related tones. I still use this technique today and am drawn to flutes that have this natural resonance. My Native American flute training came from master Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai. I learned from him directly when I attended Renaissance of the Native American Flute in Helena Montana in 2006.  Studies included flute techniques of course but also an emphasis on playing what you enjoy and connecting with nature for inspiration.

Q4. By now, you have come across a lot of varieties of flutes. Flutes are parts of music of almost every country. Do you feel they have the same appeal all over the world?

Yes, I do. There is something universal about the sound of breath through a reed or piece of a tree.  This natural resonance seems to calm people and alert them to their own connection to nature and the divine. I really think indigenous flutes are universal in their expression of a spiritual connection.

Q5. Talking in terms of effectuality, what do you think is more potent—live playing or recording in a studio?

Playing through great microphones in a superior studio with a great recording engineer, (which I did on both my albums “Following the Call” and “Doorway to a Dream,”) and playing live in front of an audience is equally potent, but in different ways.  The live experience is capturing me as a player at that moment in time in the same way I was being captured in the studio for those moments in time. They are both very different arts and both exciting to develop and experience for both player and listener/audience member.

Q6. Tell us something about the spiritual or healing approach of music. How you combine this effect while still being experimental in the scores that you produce?

I recently wrote an essay for Justin St. Vincent about the spiritual significance of music where I detail this experience.  In summary, I believe it is the musician’s role to anchor this unseen presence of spirit with a balance of technical proficiency and mindful letting go. So, when I can be open to the energy of that moment, I can feel where the next note will take me. My approach is being open and focused at this same time. It is pure spirit being born into the moment through divine patterns, numeric sequences, and sacred surprises.

Q7. You have been closely associated with Indian bamboo flute. How do you like it?

I mostly play Native American flutes made of cedar, redwood and other hardwoods. I truly love to play and compose on these instruments. I also record and perform on silver alto flute but I play this instrument more like an indigenous flute in terms of my breath and intonation. I often let notes slide and bend to offer a more dynamic experience in terms of pitch and tonality. I do have a set of Indian bamboo flutes I received as part of a flute exchange with my friend Ravichandra Kulur who is the flutist on tour with Ravi Shankar. They are absolutely beautiful and I have so much to learn about this traditional flute. I have not released any music with Indian bamboo flutes yet but look forward to doing so in the future.

Q8. Collaborating with different artists, hailing from different musical backgrounds, often open new vistas for any musician. Tell us which artists you have performed and their musical background?

I have been lucky enough to live in the San Francisco, CA area which allows  me to connect with world class musicians in all genres.  There are many I have performed or recorded with including Jeff Oster, flugelhorn; Michael Manring, bass; Jose’ Neto from Brazil, guitar; and Shambhu Vineberg, guitar. In every case, I am always in awe of how much fun the process is of playing with these great musicians. An exciting collaboration came out of an improvisation I did with Jeff Oster when we played a traditional hymn, “Amazing Grace,” at a concert.  Two days later, we went into the studio and recorded our arrangement.  We released this last year as a digital single and it is indeed a unique and soulful instrumental interpretation of a classic.

I love the idea of combining Native American flute with other instruments—in this case, the flugelhorn. You can hear it at The Native American flute has taken me many places and onto many stages. I look forward to more traditional concert halls and churches opening their doors to the natural beauty and unique qualities of these indigenous flutes.  I always welcome collaborations in these venues, too.

Jeff Oster and Ann Licater (Photo by: Carl Weingarten)
Jeff Oster and Ann Licater (Photo by: Carl Weingarten)

Q9. Now, while composing music, it needs to be written. How do approach this process when you compose a healing or spiritual tune?

I often create a piece, record it and then transcribe it after-the-fact so I can replay it or add instrumentation or a second part. I can begin with a motif and then expound on it. In terms of writing music down, I use the Nakai Tablature System for Native American Flute which was developed by R. Carlos Nakai so that the Native American flute can be notated and composed with other instrumentation. I used this notation on several of the duet and collaborative pieces on my album “Doorway to a Dream.”

Q10. Do you teach young aspirants? If yes, tell us something about your training procedure and methods.

I have a few young students and most of my older students are young-at-heart. I teach people how to play Native American flute as a spiritual practice so I never start students with sheet music or notes. I teach them the basic scales of the flutes and focus on breath technique because this is essential to playing these types of instruments with feeling and honest expression. I also take students out to a garden or natural setting and have them improvise while feeling the energy of plants, animals and flowers. By having students experience their connection to the natural world, they get out of their heads and begin to develop their intuition. My classes focus on the joy of being alive and expressing this through the flutes.

Q11. Tell us how music has an effect on your personality as a person. Do you feel it has made your mind to concentrate more efficiently and be at peace in present day’s world that has been ridden with chaos?

Music has always been a part of my personality. When I was younger I was very into the beat and rhythmic qualities in terms of listening to music. I still enjoy this, but now I have gone more internal with my music choices and enjoy the calming effects of playing and listening to ambient music. I think it is a sign of our times, too. With so many forms of stimulus in our everyday world, the flutes and ambient, New Age music is a respite.  Again, I feel the connection to the natural world which ultimately helps me focus on what is truly important—a connection to the divine.  This will always inform my art.

Q12. What message you would like to give to the readers and young aspirants of music?

Practice, practice, practice and follow your own inspiration.  It is important to learn and understand your instrument so you can play it in your own manner.  Also, listen to music in all genres so you can discover new artists and experience the legends.  Also, ask your instrument what it is teaching you.  There is a spiritual message in this question that can lead the student to discover more about themselves.  Ultimately, the more my students understand their own spirit, the more authentic and honest their playing will be.  This is what I like to teach–understand the instrument and understand yourself.



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