Flutes across the World: Gaining compassion through music and the arts

A VIRTUAL link-up through Rotary Club Pag-asa Davao president Peter Cowles and here he was in Davao playing his violin and flutes, and teaching the basics of playing the flute to children, from those in the indigenous tribes to the children in the school for the blind.

This was how John Zeretzke introduced Flutes Across the World to the children of Davao City.

Tracing the beginnings of Flutes Across the World to three men seven years ago, who would go to a place tied up in conflict when everyone else has left, three men whom he described as Knights of Malta and Knights Templar, who brought in humanitarian aid directly to affected people and doctors when no other organization has remained all over the world, including Afghanistan, Albania, Chechnya, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand, Rwanda, and the southern Philippines.

The three men’s story is documented in the film “Beyond the Call”. But, seeing that he is more of a musician than anything else, flutes became his medium to spread compassion.

“We’re not doing food relief and medical aids, we touch souls,” Keretzke said about Flutes Across the World in a dinner hosted by Rotary Club Pag-asa last Friday at Wynward Valley Organic Vegetable Garden in Barrio Obrero.

He founded Flutes Across the World in 2009 with the first humanitarian mission planned for the Philippines along with the Kinghtbridge International, the organization formed by the three self-styled Knights in “Beyond the Call”.

Keretzke is founder and artistic director of Flutes and he has been in a lot of places in the Philippines, including Basilan two years ago on their second mission to the Philippines, where he gave out flutes, taught children to play the flutes, and played the flutes for the children in a classroom while guarded by 60 Philippine Marines because of an intelligence report that the Abu Sayyaf were eyeing the white man with the flutes.

Despite the high risk it took to reach out to the children of Basilan, he said, the impact remains such that until now, “They’re still talking about the flutes.”

The flutes are made from all over, brought to the US for American children to paint and decorate. Each child gets two flutes to paint and decorate. The child gets to keep one flute and the second flute goes around the world to be given to a child somewhere.

In a website, https://startsomegood.com/flutesacrosstheworld, it describes Flutes Across the World as “a simple, yet powerful, idea.” * 2 Flutes made by students in America. * 1 stays here and one travels on a mission across the world. * 2 students connected by the gift of friendship, hope and music. Each flute that goes around the world has the photo of the child who painted it and a handwritten note from the child.

“We’re not gonna stop anything with a bullet,” Zeretzke said during the dinner. “We can learn a lot from this program.” Flutes, he said, also brings people back in touch with nature as it is but a simple wind instrument that does not cost much and can be played by anyone.

These children, he said, do not even have to learn to read notes.

“Most music in the world is not on paper but in the heart,” he said, pointing out that blind children play music without being able to read notes.

In a conversation after dinner, Keretzke recalled an Argentinean musician whose music he was trying to transcribe. He recorded, transcribed and played, but what he played didn’t pass the musician’s standard. He tried again after listening some more. Still he failed. After several tries, he realized that while the musician was playing the same music in those that he recorded, he never played it the same twice.

Having gone all over the world sharing flutes and getting to know more about flutes, Zeretzke also has a collection of different flutes and wind instruments from all over the world some of which he showed during the dinner.

Among the collection he has is a kubing made in 1964 that was given to him by a friend who was into ethno-musicology but who has spent time in the Philippines on different missions.

At present, Flutes Across the World is considering setting up a sub-board in the Philippines so that Filipino children can make flutes and send it all over the country. This will be packaged in students and teachers’ packs, which can be a medium to support indigenous music and instruments.

In the meantime, he’s playing his flutes and violin to children in Davao City.
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