Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

February 5, 2014

Navajo flute player wows gallery crowd

By Joe Lewis - Staff Writer
Journal-Times

Feb. 5, 2014 — Attendees at the Grayson Gallery and Art Center last Friday night were treated to a music display by Fred Keams and John Forgy that they aren't likely to forget anytime soon.

Amidst the works of art on display at the “Bringing Artists Together” show last Friday night, Forgy's guitar playing and Keams' melodic flute stylings evoked feelings of wonder and optimism that captivated the crowd.

“The music has totally changed my mood. I was upset most of the day, but after hearing these songs my spirits have been completely lifted,” said Jackie Clevenger, echoing the sentiments of nearly everyone at the show.

Those are just the feelings that Keams says he strives for with his playing.

“A lot of times you hear the traditional wood flute played against the backdrop of the lonesome, sad Indian. I decided that I wanted to change that stereotype,” said Keams.

He makes all of his flutes from cedar trees found in and around Lawrenceburg, the Central Kentucky town where he currently makes his home.

“Each flute is hand carved and I used the traditional method of burning each hole with a heated metal rod. It's important to preserve the process,” said Keams.

Because of the expansion and contraction of the cedar during the creation of the instrument, Keams typically has to tune each flute a minimum of three separate times in order to ensure the proper sound.

Playing the flute is as much about healing and restoration as anything else for Keams, who spent a good portion his life isolated from his kin.

“I attended a government boarding school where we weren't allowed to speak in our own language, only English. After I left the school, though, I would instinctively understand what other Navajos would say when I heard them talking,” said Keams.

“My grandfather told me that's because the spirit of our people is in the blood,” he added.

Though he's happy to be in Kentucky now, Keams is careful not to forget his Arizona roots, which he says have shaped his life in meaningful ways.

“I'm very proud of my heritage. So much so that everywhere I go now I always follow my grandfather's advice and introduce myself in both English and the Navajo tongue,” said Keams.

To learn more about Keams' music or purchase one of his handmade flutes, contact him at (502) 600-0024 or via email at fredkeams@hotmail.com.

Joe Lewis can be reached at jlewis@journal-times.com or by telephone at 286-4201.