Fluting Around: Detroit Native Returns For 'Golden' Show

Combing through Detroit's musical history will bring sounds of booming Motown vocals, hypnotic electronic flares and earth-shaking hip-hop thumps. With that rich stream of legendary sound pumping from the city, a little boy with the passion for his instrument is hardly marquee grabbing.

Yet, somehow, openly gay, African-American flautist Eric Lamb found a way to impress ears from here to the Czech Republic.

"I remember being in Prague and thinking about how I'm a kid from Detroit and here I am in the middle of Prague," Lamb remembers. "I'm not with my parents and this (instrument) has brought me to this place. The flute has given me a chance to explore the world in a way I don't think I'd be able to (without) that thing in my life."

Lamb's career has taken him far from home, but he stays connected. Each year, he comes back to boost his community with inspiration, education and entertainment. This year, among many other engagements, at 2 p.m. Oct. 6, Lamb will bring Chen Yi's "The Golden Flute" to The Village Theater stage in Canton.

"With a piece like this, it's performed so rarely - there are only two recordings of it - there isn't a real performance practice," Lamb says. "What I'm so excited about is, to be able to bring my own sensibility to this work. It's a very physical, raw, honest expression of emotion."

Being a black, gay flautist born from Detroit's gasoline-fueled streets gives Lamb visibility few musicians ever receive. While many people would use that visibility to progress an agenda, Lamb is fine with letting his success alone show queer teens and kids of color that anything is possible.

"I quantify success as what I've done for other people," Lamb says. "If that means that just by playing well and releasing albums, one day yet another underprivileged person - or someone you might not naturally think would be in this business - decides that, 'Yes, this is what I want to do' ... this is why coming back is so important to me."

For Lamb, returning home is about honoring his unique experience and celebrating his love for his hometown. Many people love their hometown. For Lamb, Detroit's soul and energy fuels every note he plays.

"I have met people who come from humble beginning who sort of forget where they're from," Lamb says. "I think a lot about where I come from and what it means to be a person of Detroit. I love Detroit.

"I'm lucky and fortunate enough that I can organize my professional life in a way in which I can come back and give classes, or even just meet with students, play a concert here or there, just be present in the place I'm from. It's important for me."

Lamb's musical career started as a childhood passion. The flute is an admittedly odd choice for a kid from Detroit but it really was a decision made from an odd set of circumstances. Too small for most instruments, the flute proved to be easy to handle for a kid of Lamb's slight build. But it was his father's musical taste that exposed him to the flute as an option for a young black kid.

"My father was such a fan of this African-American woman, Bobbi Humphrey. She's fierce. Big afro," Lamb recalls. "She had this really famous album called 'Harlem River Drive' and I'll never forget the cover of the album. She's gorgeous, sort of '70s black power - but with a flute. It made sense to me somehow."

Lamb first picked up the flute at age 8. From the beginning, music was a skill that came easily, but in an unusual way.

"Autodidactically, I taught myself how to read music," Lamb says. "I developed this weird system of colors. I took the church hymn books from my grandmother and wrote them all out and figured out how to make music, before I really could play."

When it became apparent that Lamb had a gift, his parents started him in formal training. He began private lessons with local musician Michelle May, and then began classes at Bates Academy in Detroit. Eventually, he ended up at Cass Tech and received a full ride to DePaul University and Oberlin Conservatory for his undergraduate work.

He then completed his graduate and post-graduate work at Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts in Germany, a long way from his humble beginnings in Detroit.

At age 35, Lamb has accomplished a lot already, and he's conscious of the legacy he wants to leave behind.

"I would like to teach in the future," Lamb says. "I feel like that's the legacy one can leave: having a great career, a very honest career, and being proud of that career and giving back somehow."

The Golden Flute

2 p.m. Oct. 6

The Village Theater

50400 Cherry Hill Road, Canton


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