Star Parties, Rim Blown Flutes, and Pueblo History at Jemez Historic Site with Marlon Magdalena

[Opening strum of theme music]

[00:00:00] Marlon: You can see in the petroglyphs that you see of stars, usually not just drawn as a star, sometimes they’ll have faces or they’ll have bodies, so they’re actually beings, spirits or something, you know, who knows what they would’ve thought in the past of what they were, but they’ve personified them. They’re like anthropomorphic figures now.

[00:00:24] They’re not just stars. And it’s interesting to think about, you know, why or what they thought of, what that was, or what is it now that it has a face or it has arms now.

[Theme music rises]

[00:00:38] Emily: ¡Bienvenidos! This is Encounter Culture from the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. I’m your host, Emily Withnall. Last August, I realized that the Jemez Historic site was hosting a Star Party on a weekend my kids and I planned to go camping in the Jemez Mountains.

[00:00:54] I had just started my new job as editor of El Palacio and host of Encounter Culture. So, the Historic Sites and their events were freshly on my radar. After a day hiking the trail that meanders through the Jemez East River Slot Canyon where my dog got thoroughly wet and muddy and my kids cannonballed off the cliffs above the waterfall, we headed to the Star Party at Jemez Historic Site in Jemez Springs.

[00:01:20] The site was bustling when we arrived at sunset. We parked across the street and were escorted across the small, winding road. A food stand was set up and we were immediately drawn to the aroma of Navajo tacos. In addition to ordering Navajo tacos, we ordered fry bread, doused in powdered sugar and cinnamon so that by the time we were ready to enter the site, we were full of the rich, delicious dough.

[00:01:50] Jemez Historic Site contains a small visitor’s center and museum, old Adobe walls, a kiva, a church and a convento and as with every place across New Mexico, the history is layered here. There is the history of the Jemez people who lived in the area before the Spanish arrived, the history of Spanish conquest and cruelty, the history of Pueblo people revolting against the Spanish, and the waves of settlement and displacement that came after.

[00:02:14] Jemez Historic Site holds all these histories together and in the cool mountain air on that night of the Star Party, I wondered about the histories we know, the stories we are still uncovering and the stories we may never know.

[00:02:39] I wondered too what the Jemez people thought five hundred years ago when they looked up at the night sky. My kids and I settled on the ground near the front of the church as we watched various volunteers adjust the settings of the telescope set up in the center of the site. Then, as the sky darkened completely, we waited our turn at each telescope to look at the nebula, twin stars, star clusters, and the Milky Way among other things in space. Even without the use of the telescopes, I could see far more stars with the naked eye than I can see in Santa Fe.

[00:03:15] The isolation in the mountains far from any light pollution and the absence of the moon made the sky as vibrant as I’ve ever seen it. This experience led me to reach out to Marlon Magdalena, the instructional coordinator supervisor at Jemez Historic Site. As a member of the Jemez Pueblo, Marlon offers valuable insight into the Site’s history and culture. 

In this episode of Encounter Culture, Marlon shares information about the Historic Site,  Jemez Pueblo’s role in the Pueblo Revolt, and his passion for flute making and playing. And that flute music you hear throughout our conversation? That’s Marlon. Join us!

[Flute music]

[00:04:09] Emily: Well, welcome to Encounter Culture. Marlon, I’m so glad that you could join us to talk about the stars and the night sky in general. 

Marlon: Thank you for having me. 

Emily: Yeah. Can you introduce yourself and your role at the Department of Cultural Affairs? 

[00:04:25] Marlon: My name is Marlon Magdalena. I’m the instructional coordinator supervisor for Jemez Historic Site. I’m also a tribal member of the Pueblo of Jemez. 

[00:04:35] Emily: So, I wanna start with kind of a big question, but I know that, you know, a lot of times when people are learning about the stars or you know, I’ve been to these like National Park night sky events where you look through a telescope and look at all the constellations and stuff. But I’m curious about how indigenous or specifically Jemez Pueblo perspectives or understanding of the night sky are different from what the general public across the U.S. might know about the night sky. 

[00:05:05] Marlon: So, for us at Jemez, pretty much anything in the sky, you know, is something that’s above this world. And you know, during the daytime there’s things that we can see, and then at nighttime it’s a little different.

[00:05:18] It’s dark. We have stars, but we do get some of the same things we get in the daytime as well. Like clouds, rain, lightning, and the moon. Of course, you can see it both day and at night, but during the nighttime. A d we see all the stars and all the different patterns that we can see up in the sky. 

For us at Jemez, we have a few of those stars that we look at, some of them being some of the more common, I guess, modern constellations that many people do know about. Some of them being of course, the Milky Way, that we can always see, the three stars in Orion’s belt, the Pleiades, and Sirius. So, when we see those and we see patterns and we see those stars being used in other instances, you know, outside of being able to see them up in the sky, and during certain times of the year, you see certain stars at different times or sooner, and they kind of act as a clock, pretty much a timekeeping device or a way to figure out what time of night it is for certain songs, for certain ceremonies to take place. Of course, being from Jemez Pueblo, you know, Pueblo beliefs and Pueblo religion a lot of the times are very secretive.

[00:06:36] So a lot of the things that we believe, a lot of that remains within our own groups–within our own societies is what we call ’em–and are only met for those certain instances, certain ceremonies, or certain points in time and aren’t meant to be taken away from those times. But what we can share, like I just kind of mentioned some of the stars that we look at and that we see during the nighttime sky, that’s what kind of what we have been looking at for who knows how long. Thousands of years, maybe even longer. Yeah. 

[00:07:07] Emily: How does Jemez or other Pueblos use the stars? I know you mentioned that it’s a form of keeping time and for ceremonies or things like that, but were they also used in other ways throughout the year for like marking time or planting crops or those types of things?

[00:07:27] Marlon: I’m sure they were, but not the nighttime sky, but it’s mainly sunrise or sunsets. There’s certain locations that people would mark off in the horizon and they would notice where it was on certain times of the year. Tell ’em when to plant or when was harvest time and when certain things will start. So that’s usually what we look at is what the sun is, where it’s setting or where it’s rising from.

[00:07:56] Emily: Are you a part of the organizing of the star parties that happen at Jemez Historic Site? 

[00:08:02] Marlon: Yes. I started it. I don’t think I started it specifically, but I helped with it the first time we did it back in 2018. We had one then, which was pretty successful. We had over seven hundred people at our first one. I was only expecting maybe seventy or so, and it was a free event too, so it was a little bit too much for us at the time, but we knew it was popular, so we wanted to have it again.

[00:08:27] And we did the following year in 2019, and we had another one then, and we had an admission for it. But we still got, I think around five hundred people for it. And so, we plan to have more. We even bought a telescope. One of our friends groups, Friends of Coronado and Jemez Historic Site, bought us a telescope for us to use, and of course, the pandemic.

[00:08:51] And so we couldn’t have one until this year. And so, our manager asked us to come up with some sort of a program to have during the year, during the springtime, summer, and fall time. Just so that way there’s something going on every weekend so that way people that have come to the Site can come back to it because you know, they’ve already seen everything there, and you know, they’ll have something to do there, an activity.

[00:09:16] And so I came up with something to do with astronomy since I was interested as a young person. And then I thought I’d bring it back–maybe I can talk a little bit about astronomy. So, I did presentations on it on I think the third Sunday of each month. Then that kind of brought back the idea that we should have some star parties, and so we added that to our event list for Jemez Historic Site, and so we started having them.

[00:09:41] I think our first one was in July. I. And so, we had one each month until October–our last one. 

[00:09:48] Emily: So those happen in that time period every year? 

[00:09:50] Marlon: Yeah, once a month. The third weekend I think is what we chose this year. It may be the same next year, we’re not too sure yet, but it is a paid event and it’s limited to, I think we want it to limit it this year to be about three hundred, which is pretty manageable for the Site space, parking and all that.

[00:10:10] And we do have certain astronomical societies to help us out. I think the Albuquerque Astronomical Society helps us out the most. We also had the Pajarito Astronomers, I believe they are out of Los Alamos. So, we have different organizations, and of course the Village of Jemez Springs definitely helps us out too.

[Flute music rises]

[00:10:34] Emily: Can you talk a little bit about the Star Parties and what they kind of look like? If there’s food available, what people will experience if they actually go?  

[00:10:44] Marlon: We usually have ’em in the evening, of course, when it gets dark. We also have a food vendor that comes up either from the Pueblo of Jemez or a local food truck.

[00:10:53] So that way we have food available on site if people want to come up during the star party, if they haven’t eaten yet, or they can just purchase some food there outside in our parking lot. And all of our telescopes that are brought in by the volunteers from the different astronomy groups, they set up right in front of the church which is on our Site, and they set their telescopes around there.

[00:11:20] We also set up our own, we have three telescopes that we are able to set up, and as our people are walking around, they take turns looking through different telescopes. People can go back down to the museum. That’s where our presentations take place on a projector inside the museum there.

[00:11:36] The food truck, food vendor is usually set up right outside in our parking lot. We also have. Several arts and crafts vendors, either from the Pueblo of Jemez and other Pueblos, or just the local area in the village of Jemez Springs. And so that’s kinda how the night goes. People come in, they park, and our site is very small, so we don’t have a whole lot of parking, but we do have parking available across the street. People can park there. Walk to the site, get some food, head on up to the telescope or into the museum, or just switch out throughout the night. 

[00:12:11] Emily: What do you cover in the presentations that you give?

[00:12:14] Marlon: So, the first month, back in July, since it’s our first one, I did the presentations and ’cause of the amount of people that we got, got a little over five hundred people.

[00:12:26] We decided to do three presentations about twenty minutes each, so that way we can cycle through more people so that way they get a chance to listen and then go outside to look through the telescopes. The presentation I gave was called Looking to the Skies, Ancient Astronomers of the Southwest, and so I kind of just gave a brief presentation on some of the views that I’ve kind of mentioned already.

[00:12:51] As well as, you know, giving a slide show presentation, different images, different examples of where we see different astronomical stars or sun or sky imagery in Indigenous cultures here in the Southwest. And I kind of give my interpretation some of my experience and kind of my basic knowledge of some of those types of imagery.

[00:13:15] And so I gave that presentation three times for the first night. Other nights we had other speakers come in and talk. On our last star party, we had Emmett Garcia from the, from Santa Ana Pueblo. He’s a storyteller. He’s also a singer for the reggae band, Native Roots. But we had him there for the last Star Party and he does the storytelling and he has written two books about some of the stories from his Pueblo.

[00:13:42] And I think some of ’em have to do with the stars as well. We had some people come in before the solar eclipse took place, the annular eclipse. Some people from the NASA PUNCH program and from that program, their outreach coordinator came out and gave a presentation. So, we try to have different people come in for the Star Party and then the morning after on that Sunday was also we would give presentations and have, uh, some sort of activity–mainly just looking up at the sun with our telescope with the solar filter. 

[00:14:12] Emily: Great. So, what are some of the examples of the imagery of stars that exist in New Mexico and across the Southwest?

[00:14:20] Marlon: So, the images that I shared were mainly just pictures that I’ve taken. They were just images that I’ve taken of stars night sky even, or the daytime, just giving different examples of just, sky beings night and day. So, images of the sun, the stars, the moon clouds, lightning rainstorms, things like that.

[00:14:42] I did have some images of petroglyphs that you see stars occasionally as well as pictographs. I had an image of a supposed petroglyph of a solar eclipse that may have taken place back during the times when Pueblo Bonito and Chaco Canyon would’ve been lived at, back in the ten nineties, and so I have that image there.

[00:15:03] Also, I’m a flute player and a flute maker, and so I’m interested in flutes. There’s a particular flute from the 1920s from Jemez Pueblo that has a specific pattern on it that has Sirius, the three stars of Orion’s Belt, and the Pleiades on this particular flute. And so that’s why I add that in there in that presentation because it’s interesting to see that pattern on the flute, the way you see it in the sky, which was pretty interesting. So I kind of end that presentation with those images. 

[00:15:37] Emily: Wow that’s so cool. So, I actually went to a Star Party, but I completely missed the presentation part, which I’m sad about now in retrospect. But I will catch them again next summer, hopefully. I went camping with my kids nearby. I think the food vendors had some Indian tacos and some other very tasty things, so that was fun. So do you have any personal special connection to the sky or to a set of stars or an experience at night that has been meaningful to you? 

[00:16:08] Marlon: Back in middle school, in my younger days, I was really interested in astronomy, astrophysics, things like that. I wanted to be an astronomer, but you know, that never turned out. You have to be good at math.

[00:16:21] I still liked looking at the sky. I had a telescope and then in high school I kind of got into tattoos. And so, I don’t know, you can’t really see it in the podcast here, but you can see on my arm I have tattoos of stars just all over just because of how important and how much I like stars. So, I have a lot of sky imagery on my arm and even on my leg having a whole lot of interest in, you know, what’s above us, what’s out there.

[00:16:49] And more recently how people of the past, you know, viewed those types of things. If they thought if there’s anything more out there or what they actually were stars. 

[00:17:00] Emily: And do you know if there’s any kind of documentation or evidence that points to people in the past wondering those things? 

[00:17:10] Marlon: Yeah, you can see in the petroglyphs especially that you see of stars, usually not just drawn as a star. It’s usually they’re four pointed stars, or sometimes they’ll have faces, or they’ll have bodies. I. So, they’re actually beings, spirits or something, you know, who knows what they would’ve thought in the past of what they were, but they’ve, how would I say, they’ve personified them. They’re like anthropomorphic figures now.

[00:17:40] They’re not just, they’re stars, they’re beings or spirits, and it’s interesting to think about and why or what they thought of what that was, or what is it now that it has a face, or it has arms now. 

[00:17:55] Emily: That’s so interesting. What do you think? Is there more life out there in the universe? 

[00:18:01] Marlon: Yeah, I always thought about that too. I know there’s all these shows that are on TV or on cable, and I used to be into them a lot. Then after a while they became kind of repetitive and no evidence, or more sensational type of stuff, more entertainment. I know my sister’s really into that particular show, and I used to be too, but even though they don’t have a whole lot of evidence in those shows, the ideas that they bring up are pretty interesting.

[00:18:28] Just to think about, you know, what if, but you know, I’ve always wondered about that too. I guess a quote from one of my favorite movies, “If there is no life out there, then it’s a awful waste of space.” Contact. Loved that movie ever since it came out. 

[00:18:46] Emily: Yeah, I remember watching that. Yeah. In the ’90s or something, right? Yeah, I loved it too. Yeah.

[Flute music—invitation to visit Jemez Historic Site] 

[00:18:53] Emily: Embrace the stories that make New Mexico. New Mexico Historic Sites are the footprints left by the people of New Mexico in mountain paths and city streets. The Sites serve as a bridge from the past to our collective future. Jemez Historic Site is one of New Mexico’s most beautiful sites, constructed by ancestors of the present-day people of Jemez Pueblo.

[00:19:20] The footprints left behind include a massive stonewall church and convento. Visit this national historic landmark located in the narrow San Diego Canyon, which the Pueblo people called Gisewa—a word that refers to the hot springs found nearby. Learn more at

[End promo—flute music]

[00:19:47] Emily: So, I’m curious if you could talk a little bit more about your role at Jemez Historic Site as an instructional coordinator and supervisor. 

[00:19:57] Marlon: Okay. So Jemez Historic Site is a state facility, a state site. It protects the Pueblo of Gisewa, which is an ancestral village of the Jemez people, as well as one of the first Spanish missions, the San Jose de Los Jemez  Mission Church, which was built by Jemez people, designed by Franciscan Missionary back in 1621.

[00:20:19] And it’s a small site. It’s only about six acres or so, but it protects the village and the church. The village was once a very large community of about eight hundred or so rooms, which are now sadly underneath the Highway 4 and the buildings across the street. So, what you see today is only about a third of what used to be the village of Gisewa.

[00:20:44] And so as instructional coordinator supervisor, which is basically a fancy way of saying educator, I educate the public. I give tours. I’m also responsible for going outside of Jemez Springs because not a lot of schools can come up that way. So ,I try to go to the schools here in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Bernalillo, Rio Rancho, kind of the surrounding cities ’cause it’s easier for me to take a bit of Jemez Historic Site to the schools. I talk to the kids about Jemez Historic Site, about Jemez history, Pueblo history or musical instruments. Since I am a musician, I also use my flutes if I’m going out and doing those types of outreach. 

[00:21:34] And it’s free basically, ’cause it’s part of my job to do the outreach to go to those schools, to inform and educate the public. Also, different events, conferences, and set up tables, information booths, outreach tables, that sort of thing. If they want performance flute music, I also do that occasionally. I also do storytelling, and so I incorporate what I’ve learned growing up in Jemez Pueblo as a Jemez person, as well as a musician. So, I try to incorporate those parts of my personal life into my professional life, I suppose.

[00:22:02] So I tell people about Jemez Historic Site and yeah, that’s basically my primary goal is just to tell people who the Jemez people are that we’re people that are still around. We’re Indigenous people, Native American people, that we still exist. We’re still here. And we still have our languages, we still have our language, we have our culture traditions that we’re still, we’re still there. 

[00:22:33] Emily: Are there any important pieces of Jemez Pueblo history that you can share with us? 

[00:22:42] Marlon: Well, to me, I guess everything kind of important that’s happened there. But if it’s, you know, Jemez Historic Site, one of the main reasons why it’s there, why it’s protected site, it’s because of what happened there in the past. You do have Ancestral Jemez people living there, and then you get colonization that happens and takes place there, and so you see kind of the consequences of those types of things happening at Jemez Historic Site. 

[00:23:14] You see that history there of what happened between the Spanish colonists, the Franciscan missionaries, the Spanish government with the Jemez people, and we kind of talk about both sides and both, uh, times before the Spanish arrive as well as, you know, what happens after. And kind leads into how we are today as the modern Jemez people. And so, there’s a, just a lot of history to share at Jemez Historic Site.

[00:23:42] Emily: I have heard that Jemez Pueblo is a part of the Pueblo revolt. Is that accurate? Yes, 

[00:23:49] Marlon: Yes, Jemez Pueblo was part of the Pueblo Revolt as were most Pueblos, but not all Pueblos of course, but the majority of Pueblos that we see today and Pueblos that aren’t around anymore participated in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. And as we all know, or if we don’t know, it was a successful Revolt. It was a successful time and a very important time for Pueblo people, Pueblo history, New Mexico history, and just U.S. history as well, and it’s a time that we also try to educate people about at Jemez Historic Site. 

[00:24:24] Emily: We do have a lot of listeners in New Mexico who probably know the context and the history behind the Pueblo Revolt. But for our listeners who do not live in New Mexico, could you say a little bit about the Pueblo Revolt and its success? 

[00:24:38] Marlon: So, with the Pueblo Revolt, I think one of the main things I try to tell people about it, and the main thing to take away from it is that there isn’t just one reason why it happened.

[00:24:48] There are many different reasons why, and each Pueblo’s experience with it with colonization is different, but very similar and all of these reasons that led up to the Revolt. So, the reasons why the Revolt happened, like I said, there isn’t just one reason. There’s different policies that were enacted on the Pueblo people: taxation, slave labor, starvation, warfare disease are some of the main reasons. Sometimes some of these reasons affected certain Pueblos more than others. But overall, all of these things kind of just started to add up. One of the other ones is also the prohibition of Pueblo religion, our ceremonies, which are our, basically our way of life.

[00:25:36] And so our religious leaders and were punished for practicing what we’ve been doing for hundreds and hundreds of years. So, all of these reasons kind of just led up and just added up for Pueblo people, they couldn’t take it no more. So, one of those persons, or one of those men that was punished was Po’pay, and he was a man from Okay Owingeh Pueblo.

[00:25:56] He was captured and he was punished and he escaped to Taos Pueblo to the north, and that’s where he had this idea, or this idea came to him of uniting all the Pueblos so that way they could overthrow and basically defeat the Spanish Empire and kind of just kick ’em out of this area. He couldn’t do this without the approval, basically, of all the religious leaders or all the leaders from all the Pueblos.

[00:26:26] So he sent runners to each Pueblo asking permission and also carrying these knotted cords. And these cords would be untied each morning. And when the last knot was untied, that’s when the Revolt would’ve taken place. So that was the idea that he had at that time, and things changed a little over time.

[00:26:47] There’s other details that people can do their own research on, but it happened on August 10th and August 11th, 1680 where the Pueblo people eventually overthrew kicked out the Spanish. But like I said, each Pueblo was different. It wasn’t just one and done. They still had other places to go. Once they’ve revolted in their own Pueblos, they still came to Santa Fe because that’s where the Capitol was at the time, and so they still had to defeat the people in Santa Fe, which eventually, of course, they were successful.

[00:27:19] It’s a great story. We have an event that celebrates the Pueblo Revolt, we call it Pueblo Independence Day, which happens in August, the second Sunday of August. It’s a collaboration between the Pueblo of Jemez and the Jemez Historic Site. The day starts off with the run from the Pueblo of Jemez  Plaza, thirteen miles north to the Jemez Historic Site.

[00:27:44] It’s kind of a commemoration and in honor of the runners that took the knotted chords between each pueblo during the revolt to send a message that the revolt was gonna take place. And running is also a large part of our culture at Jemez and other Pueblos as well. So that incorporates that. And it ends at the Jemez Historic Site with some prayers from some of our leaders.

[00:28:07] We also have an arts and crafts fair going on, as well as traditional dances throughout the day, and it’s in commemoration of the Pueblo Revolt. 

[00:28:16] Emily: Oh, wow. And is that something that people from outside can participate in the run or are they spectators of it? 

[00:28:26] Marlon: We do open it up to anyone that wants to run and it’s usually a relay. We kind of want it to be a pilgrimage run. It’s not a race. And if you do want to run the thirteen miles you can, but we do want to get there, you know, at a certain time. So, we do ask and people to get taken up in front and kind of get dropped off. And that’s kind of how we’ve been doing it since, you know, I’ve been working there.

[00:28:49] I think we started this, yeah, about eighteen years ago. And so, we’ve had it every year since.

[Flute music rises]

[00:28:55] Emily: You mentioned that you were interested in astronomy since a young child, and you’ve also talked about your music. Did you become interested in music from a young age as well? 

[00:29:18] Marlon: Yeah. So, music is a part of our life, or it’s our lifestyle. Music is part of our ceremonies, rituals, dances, it’s entwined and it’s a part of who we are as Jemez people, as well as Pueblo people.

[00:29:34] And I learned songs growing up, going to ceremonies with my dad, then eventually participating in those ceremonies and dances and eventually creating my own songs. But during this process, I came across at an event in Jemez Pueblo back in 2007. I heard someone playing a flute. It was a arts and crafts vendor, and they were playing flutes that they were selling.

[00:30:01] And so I heard it, and it caught my attention, and so I went and I bought my first flute at that time. And so, since 2007 I bought more, I became more interested, started doing more research, and I knew we had flutes in Jemez, but you only hear them because they’re used ceremonially. 

[00:30:22] And you only hear them, and if you don’t belong to any of the groups or societies that we have at home, you don’t really see them. And so, I never seen them ’cause I’m not part of any of those groups. So, I had to do my own research, and then I came across Pueblo style or rim blown flutes that my ancestors made here in the Southwest.

[00:30:40] Evidence of really old ones at Pueblo Bonito, some in Arizona that date back to the six hundreds. So, I started replicating these and I started making my own of these older style as well as some of the more contemporary flutes that you hear in Native American flute music. And so, I started making those and I started selling them just about a year after I started playing in 2008.

[00:31:02] That’s when I started making them. And so, I started making all different styles from what I call the two-chambered block flutes to the rim blown flutes, to bird bone flutes made out of turkey bone and eagle bone. I also use copper and all sorts of different types of wood material, and so I started making them and I started making my own songs, just whatever I come up with.

[00:31:24] And also, some of my flute songs are actually based off of the songs that we dance. So, I have a flute song that I call Bow and Arrow Dance because it’s based off of a song that I actually made that year and I made it into a flute song. So, I use the melody or I, I use melodies from songs that we sing that are commonly known in the Pueblo at Jemez.

[00:31:48] And so I used those to make new flute songs over the years. You know, I’ve done performances many different places and then just recently I met Clark Tenakhongva at a presentation I did in Arizona at Monument Valley. They were having some sort of event there and he also gave a presentation and I gave a presentation on Indigenous musical instruments of the American Southwest.

[00:32:14] And that’s where I met him. And then a few years go by last year he contacted me ’cause we were friends on Facebook and I kind of seen what he’s been up to. He had this trio, the Öngtupqa trio. And the flute player that he has that’s part of that group plays the rim blown flutes. He also calls it the Hopi Long Flute, ’cause they still use them out there too.

[00:32:37] And this man had recorded with Clark as well as with Matthew Nelson to play clay pots instruments. And so, they created this group and they made a CD, and they were asked to go to perform overseas, but then Covid happened, the pandemic happened, so they didn’t go. And since everything opened backed up, they were invited, but the flute player wasn’t able to make it.

[00:33:01] And so Clark needed a flute player that could play rim blown flutes, and he wanted an Indigenous person, so there weren’t very many that he knew of. And so, he contacted me, just messaged me out of the blue saying, “Hey, you want to perform in United Arab Emirates?” I was like, “okay, sure.” I wasn’t really believing ’cause it was just a short two sentences, like, oh, okay.

[00:33:23] So I had to make sure, are you serious? ’cause this was, he had asked me, I think in September and this trip was in January and I didn’t have a passport. And so, I was like, oh man, if I can get a passport, then yeah, I wanna go. Because everything was paid for. The U.S. Embassy paid for everything. It’s a program that they did out there.

[00:33:43] So luckily, I was able to get my passport within a month, and so I was able to perform with Clark and Matthew in the United Arab Emirates in two different places back in January. And so, I do have a description of what we did out there. I have a bunch of pictures that I posted on my website. And it was a really eye-opening experience to be out there in a completely different country.

[00:34:07] I’d never been outside of the United States before, but it was one of the best experiences I guess I’ve ever had playing out there in a completely different country, different culture, different ideas, different beliefs, but just playing an instrument that’s one of the most common instruments—flutes. And I know they have their own flutes out there, and they’re very similar too, which is another interesting thing.

[00:34:28] So I was very grateful that Clark thought of me to fill in for their flute player. 

[00:34:36] Emily: What is a rim blown flute? 

[00:34:38] Marlon: So, a rim blown flute. It’s a descriptive, it’s basically a hollow tube with holes drilled into it to play notes, but it’s called a rim blown flute because your mouth has to have a certain type of embouchure it’s called, you have to blow a certain way onto the rim of the flute.

[00:34:59] So there’s actually several ways that you can play these types of flutes, and I was able to teach myself to play it. 

[00:35:07] Emily: That sounds impressive and maybe difficult. 

[00:35:10] Marlon: It was. There wasn’t a whole lot of resources ’cause no one in my Pueblo can really play it anymore. So, I had to do my own just research. I was able to find a single video of a man from Iran that plays a Persian ney.

[00:35:26] I was able to learn that technique from his videos and his website. ’cause that’s probably the hardest technique I had to learn or to teach myself because it’s a weird technique. And the other technique you find more common for Egyptian neys and Turkish neys, sort of a different blowing technique, but still blowing onto the rim.

[00:35:46] So that’s what I had to teach myself to play those types of flutes. The other types are a lot easier to play. Some of ’em are just like recorders. I’m sure we all have dabbled in the recorder as younger people. Those are a little bit easier to make sounds from. 

[00:35:59] Emily: Mm-Hmm. So it sounds like then people from your Pueblo used to play this, the rim blown flutes and it just has fallen out of practice?

[00:36:10] Marlon: To the best of my knowledge, yes. The flute I had mentioned earlier with the stars from the twenties, the 1920s. That flute was a rim blown flute with four holes. But the flutes that we play now are a little bit different, a little bit easier to play. But the important thing about the flute is the sound. We want the sound to be played and heard ’cause that’s kind of what, like I said earlier, that’s all I ever heard was the sound of the flute. I never saw it. 

[00:36:37] Emily: Yeah, yeah. So in addition to going into schools and showing kids in various places, things like flute playing, are you able to teach people in your community so that they also learn how to play the flute?

[00:36:50] Marlon: Yes, I’ve done several flute making workshops with the community. I’ve done some at the Jemez Historic Sites during one of the summer programs where we collaborated with the Jemez Pueblo Library and they brought kits for students during the summer. They brought them up to the sites. We did some activities there.

[00:37:10] They would go back down to the library, write about it. We also took ’em on field trips, sometimes here into Santa Fe or out to Pecos Pueblo, and we kind of incorporate the two sites that way with that program. I’ve also done other flute making workshops in the Pueblo. I think this was for one of their summer recreation programs.

[00:37:31] So they bought the supplies that I needed and just to make a simple, basic flute, and we were able to do that. I’ve done that several times at the Site, just during the summer too, if people are interested, and we do get a few people that are interested. 

[00:37:47] Emily: Have the stars or the sky ever inspired any of your music writing?

[00:37:52] Marlon: Not the stars specifically. I think mainly times of the day or a specific moment as I make a song. If I don’t have a name or a title for it yet, I’ll usually use the point in time that I finished it or that I made it. So, I have songs named after the sunrise or the season or the place where I made it, but nothing, you know specifically for the stars yet.

[00:38:18] I started playing 2007, just two years before I started working at the Jemez Historic Site and working there, and then also working with flutes and learning how to play flutes. Since I’ve been working there, I’ve kind of grown, they’ve both kind of grown together, you know, my flute playing, making, and presenting and performing and showing people the flutes has been kind of incorporated into my job as an educator.

[00:38:47] I think that’s kind of helped. It’s affected how I see everything with my music, with any music and how I teach people about not just my music, but then how it affects everything else. Music is part of our history. It’s a part of Jemez culture. It’s a part of it. So, I’ve been able to use it all, you know, as part of being an educator and educating people about who Jemez people are.

[flute music rises]

[00:39:12] Emily: To learn more about Marlon Magdalena’s work as an artist and musician, visit And to learn more about Jemez, Historic Site and the rich history of the area, visit That’s J-E-M-E-Z. Jemez Historic Site is open 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM Wednesday through Sunday. The site also hosts special events throughout the year, such as the Lights of Gisewa, an event held in December that features Pueblo dancers, hundreds of farolitos, and Native artisans.

[Theme music: End credits]

[00:40:21] Encounter Culture is a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. 

Our producer is Andrea Klunder at The Creative Imposter Studios. 
Season five is produced and edited by Andrea Klunder and Alex Riegler. 
Our recording engineer is Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe.
Technical direction and post-production audio by Edwin R Ruiz.

[00:40:45] Our executive producer is Daniel Zillman. 

Thank you to New Mexico artist, El Brujo D’Santi Nava, 
For our theme music, for a full transcript and show notes, visit or click the link in the episode description in your listening app. 

I’m your host, Emily Withnall. 

The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs is your guide to the state’s exceptional museums, historic sites, and cultural institutions.

[00:41:13] Jemez Historic Site is one of New Mexico’s most beautiful sites. Plan your visit to this national historic landmark located in the narrow San Diego Canyon at

And if you love New Mexico, you’ll love El Palacio magazine. Subscribe at  Thank you for listening and if you learned something new, send this episode to a friend or share it on social media.

[00:41:42] We love celebrating the culture of New Mexico together. 

[Theme Music fades out]