March communications engineer celebrates his roots

photo/ Charlie Gill

Randy Staley is a communications engineer at the AFN Broadcast Center on March Air Reserve Base.  He can carry a tune.  He’s not a singer, but a craftsman who uses wood and animal skins to create flutes and drums.  His flutes are fashioned using the pentatonic scale, which is classic Native American, among other cultures.  He uses wood that he finds in the forest, and carefully shapes them with his tools.  The drums are crafted from wood and natural hides.

Randy has always had an interest in music and Native American culture.  After attending some Indian ceremonies in Montana many years ago, he traveled home to perform a traditional blessing at his parent’s home in Ohio.  After the ceremony, his dad mentioned something that may not have surprised him as much as delighted him.  One of his grandparents was half Penobscot Indian.   The tribe is located in Maine.  Randy’s interest in Native Americans had now become his heritage. That heritage included the music of his ancestors, and so Randy began with creating drums.  Tightly bound elk or deer hide gives each drum it’s unique, rich sound, but Randy says it’s also a spiritual connection with the animal, “Each drum has a sound according to what  “voice” the skin carries,” he says.   That voice is reflected from the four winds of Earth;  north, south, east and west.  Each beat of the drum is a brings forth a deep, rich, almost  somber sound.  The flutes are fashioned from a single piece of wood. Randy is careful to use only wood from areas that allow collection of branches.  He sees a piece of wood not as just some fallen branch, but as a musical instrument.  He began to make flutes many years ago from vkits he would buy.  “They just didn’t have any character,“  he said.  So he took the next step—making his own.  But what about getting the pitch just right? Modern technology lends an ear.  A digital tuner ensures the flutes are pitch perfect.  As Randy plays, the rich notes call out from time forgotten.

Randy Staley spends his days making sure we are all connected, either by cell phone or desk phone.  He checks circuits that keep us in touch with each other. He fixes problems in an automated world.  When his day is finished, he spends evenings communicating in the most ancient of languages, the beat of times gone by, and winds of the past.