Close your eyes and through the voices of Native American style flutes, you can almost visualize Indian spirits, haunting, mystical and rising from the smoke of an ancient ceremonial fire. Gathered against the backdrop of the sacred superstition Mountains, 'Saggio' weaves tales of Indian flute origins for audiences of all ages.
Dick Saggio and his wife, Barbara, have been residents of Apache Junction for the past 25 years, and until three years ago, Saggio taught English at Mountain View High School. He's since walked away from the paper grading to devote full time to performing and recording.
"Dick was the English teacher," said his wife, "now, the flute player is Saggio."
Saggio, an Italian name, means one of wisdom, one to savor, and the translation duly describes the man who makes the wooden branch sing.
About six years ago, Saggio first heard Native American flutes on an album his wife was playing. "I ran downstairs," he recounts, "and my heart told me I needed to make that sound. Instantly, I fell under the spell of the primal music."
Saggio believes some form of collective cellular memory was triggered in him that day, for the urgency to make the sound of Native American flutes was overwhelming.
"This is a coming home for both the flute and the flute player, a soulful reunion of long-separated friends," said Saggio.
Although he had never made music before, does not read music even today, and does not consider himself a musician, when the flute comes to Saggio's lips, there is a magical union of wood, flesh, and spirit. He plays his flutes without knowing how.
"It is because I am what I play," said Saggio. "I put my head under my arm and I play from the heart."
Saggio said he prays the flutes to carry him to that quiet place deep within... where he can experience the thunder of silence.
"There is a master inside that knows what to do as each of my 70 flutes calls out to me, each with a different voice and a separate personality," he said.
For two hours on July 27, Saggio's flutes softly echoed across the rooms and hallways of Merrill Gardens, 2080 S. Ironwood Drive in Apache Junction, each wafting its individual and haunting voice as Saggio performed to a packed living room area and mesmerized the audience with his improvisational music and Native American stories.
According to Saggio, Native American flutes have been around for several hundred years drifting across the southern plains, until about 20 years ago when there was but a handful of these flutes and Indian flute players remaining.
"The flutes and players almost went to extinction," said Saggio, "but now the sounds are rebounding in larger numbers."
Saggio's extensive collection of 70 flutes ranges in price from a $12 Pima flute to a $420 bass G flute. His accumulation, acquired from some of the most gifted flute makers across the country, includes a wide variety of Native American style pieces in aromatic cedar, walnut, spruce, mahogany, cherry, maple, mesquite, and kwila.
Using sound effects and the melodious native voice of a maple flute with a channel block, or bird, carved in the likeness of a woodpecker, Saggio interlaced tales among sounds of the wind and the pecking of a woodpecker. He retold stories passed down from generations of Indians, testimonials shared with him by current descendants of Native Americans. He told of a young Indian brave playing a wooden branch with an image of a woodpecker, the mystical sounds carrying to a young Indian maiden, the chief's forbidden daughter. Through the dead branch, made alive again with the magic of sound, the brave's heart was expressed through music and he captured the maiden's heart. According to Indian legend, this was the origin of the love flute, or courting flute.
At Merrill Gardens, Saggio performed a piece, Beyond Words and Thoughts, from his current album, The Thunder of Silence. He encouraged his captive audience to let the healing sound take them where it might, to a healthful place. The E Minor flute, made in Texas of walnut wood, produced relaxing, harmonious, almost enchanting sounds as many residents closed their eyes to be transported to that mystical mending place.
The artist describes himself as a "healing artist" and his music as "... an ideal accompaniment for wellness programs, bodywork, and journeys within."
Lovena Warren, a T'ai Chi instructor and resident of Gold Canyon, shares that belief.
At 10 a.m. twice a week, something magical happens at the Mountain Brook Village in Gold Canyon. That's when a dozen or so residents gather and look up at the looming Superstition Mountains. To the soft voices of Saggio's flutes and the directions of Ms. Warren, they inhale deeply and, suddenly, they become drifting clouds, or floating lilies, or gliding eagles. It's part of a mental exercise of a T'ai Chi class, a 4,000-year old martial art that involves various movements, breathing, and meditation exercises.
"The goal is to get in touch with your inner self using slow, easy meditative type movements," said Ms. Warren. "Saggio's music is very conducive to getting into that meditative mood, to creating balance and harmony in life. Guilt and anger block up inside us. T'ai Chi creates healing as it starts the flow of energy and unblocks those factors that can cause illness. I just want to share my good fortune with others, and I teach T'ai Chi free of charge," said Ms. Warren.
Saggio describes Ms. Warren's classes, which include grandmothers, young mothers, and some older men, as "poetry in motion," "a very beautiful movement," and "a good way to move one's body and mind and spirit together."
Saggio can be heard weekly on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 7 p.m. at Arizona Mills where he's been performing for over three months under the MAKA Management and record label, and he's contracted well into 2001. After Labor Day, performances will be added on Friday evenings.
On January 13, Saggio will be performing at "The Gathering," a multimedia performance where three to four different artisans--artists, dancers, pottery makers, and musical performers--will be on stage at once. This event will be held at Chandler Center for the Arts.
The Thunder of Silence, Saggio's debut album, is a magical blend of plaintive, haunting flute improvisations, accented with the grace and elegance of classical guitar.
When Daydreams Whisper, the second CD, is scheduled for release this month, and a third album, Courting the Heart of the World, is already underway with a planned release date about three months out.
T'ai Chi and Saggio are the culmination of an inspiring, healing, triumphant sound painting with which to journey into the new millennium.