Play It Again, Al
Carmichael resident explores native roots through music
By Jessica Laskey
Longtime Carmichael resident Al Striplen has led many lives as an educator, artist and musician, but the common thread among all his interests is his love of learning.
A native of Bakersfield, Striplen studied botany at Humboldt State before moving to Lake County to teach middle and high school sciences and, eventually, mechanical drawing (he says he’s been artistic for as long as he can remember).
He was recruited by Humboldt to return to campus to work in the financial aid office, but his next job offer came in the most unlikely of places: on the running track.
“I was running around the football stadium and a fellow ran up alongside me and asked if I was Al Striplen,” he recalls. “I said yes, and he asked me to apply for a job in the Educational Leadership Program—which is where I ended up spending the majority of my career.”
Through ELP, Striplen was introduced to—and advocated for—students from all kinds of backgrounds. In fact, the job encouraged him to delve deeper into his own Native American heritage (his father’s family hails from the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, often referred to as Ohlone), which led to the discovery of his immense affinity for the artistic aspects of the culture.
When he was recruited by Sac State to work for its ELP—where he stayed for 32 years until his retirement in 2009—Striplen was able to further his Native studies, as well as use his drawing skills to design forms and pamphlets for the university in the early days of its programming.
Once retired, Striplen fully dedicated his time to drawing and to his Native education, which led to the publication of “Little Deer and the First Native American Flute,” a book he wrote and illustrated, as well as his current favorite pastime (and tertiary career): playing, teaching and building the Native American flute.
“I became intrigued with the instrument through my work at the California State Indian Museum,” says Striplen, who volunteered there (pre-COVID) as a docent alongside his wife, Connie, who runs the foundation that oversees the museum store. “The flute ensures that the individual playing it uses their breath to create something unique and beautiful and positive. It’s a meditative thing and a way to put beauty out into the world.”
Striplen found such success teaching himself to play the Native American flute that he now offers lessons (when someone buys a flute at the museum, they’re offered a free lesson with Striplen to learn the basics) and performs throughout the city.
The instrument’s musical-spiritual connection and his studies of Amah ceremonies that are part of his heritage also inspired Striplen to learn meditation. He offers spiritual counseling at Sunlight of the Spirit on J Street and studies energy work called “reconnective healing” to help people through tough times. “Understanding the pandemic and how to ‘think’ through this transition is part of my work, as well as teaching meditation and using it as a tool to personally and spiritually evolve,” he says. “I include Native American teachings as they pertain to today’s events.”
Striplen has also written a second children’s book, “Little Deer Dreams of Bear.”
“When people are in transition from what they learned growing up and are searching for more, I can help them make sense of it,” Striplen says. “It’s about empowering themselves to have control of their lives, differentiating between their intuition and false messages, and being well and joyful.”
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.