With his lips pressed against a flute fashioned from plastic PVC pipe, a wine cork and some hot glue, John Zeretzke let loose a warbling tremolo and began playing a mesmerizing ancient tune.
A group of kids at Circle V Ranch Camp watched in awe.
“That’s pretty good for a little chunk of plastic,” Zeretzke said.
About 25 kids decorated the chunks of plastic Thursday as part of “Flutes Across the World,” a project award-winning composer Zeretzke began in 2009 to bring music to underserved children.
“We take flutes children make in America and give them to children across the world. Kids who get these say they’ll never forget that one person in America who made that flute. That’s you,” Zeretzke told the kids.
Zeretzke, now in his fifth year of delivering flutes to countries including the Philippines, Laos, Honduras, Haiti and most recently Nepal, said the program has gifted more than 15,000 flutes to children worldwide.
One boy, bedridden in a hospital, began crying when he received his flute. He slept with it for months until he wore the decorations off the plastic, Zeretzke said.
“You’re not just giving a flute. You’re giving hope and inspiration,” he added.
At Circle V Ranch Camp, a group of boys teamed up at the craft shack to decorate their two flutes -- one for themselves, and another to give away. As soon as the flutes were passed around, kids began blowing into them. Few had ever played a flute before.
“Don’t play those yet,” one counselor told the kids.
“No, wait. You want to play those? Go ahead. That’s what they’re for,” Zeretzke told them.
Seconds later, the room burst into a sustained cacophony of high-pitched squeals.
“I love it,” Zeretzke said, before stopping them for a quick lesson in flute basics.
“Do exactly as I do,” he told them.
Purse your lips and moo like a cow.
Keep your back arched.
Six minutes later, boys were tooting out rough versions of “Hot Cross Buns.”
Then the decorating began.
Kids picked out ancient symbols representing peace, happiness and the earth and drew them on their flutes.
“Sometimes the symbol picks you,” Zeretzke told the kids.
Daniel Fairfax decided on a broken arrow, a symbol of peace for Native Americans dating to when arrows would be snapped in half upon declaration of a battle’s end.
“It just looked pretty cool, and we don’t have a lot of peace in the world right now,” Fairfax said.
Others went off script, choosing to draw symbols that weren’t necessarily from ancient cultures.
“Mine looks so majestic,” one boy said, as he colored around the symbol of the Illuminati, the name given to several real and fictitious groups.
The program not only touches those who receive the flutes, but those who decorate the instruments, Zeretzke said.
John Scesney, an Ojai native and renowned jazz saxophonist, showed little interest in music until taking part in the Flutes Across the World Project, Zeretzke said.
“It inspired him to take music classes in high school,” Zeretzke said. “Some of these kids are not going to walk out of here and be virtuosos, but this can definitely save a life.”