by Liz Baudler
When Tatiana Chaika was a child in Southwestern Sibera, her parents thought she should learn piano. In two years, she had eight teachers, and a ton of frustration. So when she came to American many years later and someone suggested she attend a Native American flute class, it took her seven months to finally decide she wanted to go. “If I would come to a class and it would take me a few months or weeks to make a sound correctly, I would never continue to do that,” she says. But it didn’t take her a few months. “The first time I came, people said, “You are a player, thank you!” And thus began her long love affair with the Native American flute.
“I’m trying to show people the way with flute to express themselves, because it’s a very easy instrument. It brings you into connection with Mother Earth.” She does not teach like the eight piano teachers of her youth. “It’s about communication and openness. In Russia they have a very strict pattern of teaching. You should do only what the teacher asks you to do, and not more. It’s kind of hard, especially for children, but everyone has a child inside. As soon as you help people to come back and remember they are children, everything comes out effortlessly.”
It may be even easier for Tatiana because of a special connection she seems to have to Native American culture. This diminutive, thin Russian woman with the warm smile has, at times been mistaken for a Native American by bona fide Native Americans, even when she’s not playing flute. And something about the way she plays seems to hearken to some sort of past life as a Native American.
“My third class—before they start and before they close, everyone comes to the microphone, and they play a small piece of their own music. When I came in circle to play my own music, the teacher stopped to give commands to everyone. When it was my turn, I think, “oh my god, I’ve done something wrong,” and he look at me and say “Are you Russian?” I say “Yes”. “And you never played a flute?” “Yes.” “And you never heard it before?” “No.” “HOW CAN YOU PLAY LIKE A NATIVE AMERICAN!” “I DON’T KNOW?!”
Tatiana’s spiritual education has been light years away from her life in Russia, so much so that when she went back to visit after five years in American, she found herself even unsure how to speak Russian. While she says Russians have become more comfortable exploring their spirituality in the twenty or so years since the fall of Soviet Union, they still have a different mentality. She also learned so much of her English in her spiritual life, through yoga and meditation, that it’s just a different kind of language than those in Russia are used to. Plus, Russians have a different attitude towards lifelong learning.
“In Russia, if you see someone around 45 years old, and you say, “You can learn, you can study”, they say, “Oh my God, I am already done for this life, what are you talking about?” she says. When she was near 50, a healer told Tatiana she’d live until 95, which made her reconsider a few things. “What am I going to do for the next half of life? In the next few months, I start to use rollerblades, I start to play flute, I start to study many many different things—now I want to learn to ride a horse, so many different things I wish to do.” Including continuing to teach flute.
“My flute was gifted to me by my teacher. When he bought the flute for me, I did not know what kind of flute, where to buy it, what kind of quality, and he said, “I will bring you flute.” Next time I came to class, he started to play a flute, and I just recognized this voice, and he finished and he said, “This flute is yours, it’s free for you if you will teach somebody else to play flute,” I said, “I cannot take it because I cannot promise that I will teach someone.” He said, you don’t promise, you just take it.” Till now, I’ve taught more than 40 people.” She will continue to teach in her quest to open others up to the voice they might have lost, and help them share it with the world.