Roswila's Dream & Poetry Realm

SEE ALSO: TRYING TO HOLD A BOX OF LIGHT (photos, realistic to abstract)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

ON DIDJERIDUS, WITH A POEM



[To hear a didjeridu being played click here and scroll down to "Digjeridoo"]


Something I haven’t mentioned here yet is my love of both listening to and making music. I used to collect some drums and other percussion instruments, but mostly I avidly sought out wind instruments: bamboo, raku, PVC pipe, or “whatever” kind of flutes – except for the traditional silver flute because I’m not a trained musician by any stretch of the imagination.

However, my big adventure was into the world of the didjeridu, or yidaki as it is sometimes called. If you don’t know, the didjeridu is a several foot long Australian aboriginal wind instrument, made from the hollowed out branch of a eucalyptus tree, with a bees wax mouthpiece and often beautiful art on it, and no finger holes. (See Resource link at bottom for more details and some photos of these beautifully painted instruments.)

What a challenge learning to play my first didj was – a practice didj made from old PVC pipe. You have to learn “circular breathing” to play a didj. It’s how you sustain the drone and other sounds, seemingly without pausing to take a breath. It’s quite a trick, at least it was for me. You fill your cheeks with air and then sniff in through your nose at the same time as you collapse your cheeks to maintain the didj sound. Sounds easy, ey? Fuhgedaboudit! The back of your throat naturally wants to shut down and cut off the incoming air. I was the last person in my class to catch on. And the funny thing was, I’d been doing it for a while but not realizing it! At any rate, I learned a great lesson about persistence in the process.

It was also a bit of a trick, again at least for me, to get the real deep throated didj sound and to maintain it. You can’t breath too hard or too lightly, or you lose it. And then there’s the size of the mouthpiece and it’s shape, which has to suit not only your mouth but your style of playing. Sigh, though I did eventually catch on to all this. Then I bought another didj and had to adjust all over again to the size and shape of mouthpiece. But it was easier the second time around.

By then I had the collecting fever. I eventually wound up with six didj’s: the practice PVC, one PVC covered in a nice cloth, a eucalyptus one, a painted glass one (which I still have displayed on my wall – it’s gorgeous), a bamboo one (which I still have and play), and one made from the stem of an agave cactus (which I also still have and play). Actually I haven’t played much in recent years and writing all this has made me want to. All to the good. It’s very calming to play – all that breathing, and the instrument’s vibrations in my hands and body.

Then once I had all these instruments and was participating in improv music groups (based on Music for People’s model), it really became necessary to find a way to cart a didj around the city, along with everything else I always carried. So I did what I’d done for my flutes and drums, I crocheted bright multi-colored carrying cases with straps. Sort of long tube-shaped sweaters with drawstring tops. New Yorkers are a stitch. We are rather used to seeing very strange things in our subways. But I’d still catch folk trying to look at me on the sly and figure out just what the blazes I was carrying.

I also brought my didj with me to just about every poetry reading I did, as I’d been doing for years with my flutes. I used to joke that I played my instruments to wake people up so they’d listen to my poems. This may actually have been how it worked, who knows? I do know some folk were knocked out by the various odd sounds one can make on a didj. One man came up to me after a reading, shaking his head and looking amazed, asking how I made those animal sounds. (You can make growling and barking dog sounds and the call of the kukuburra bird, e.g.)

I attended a concert many years ago in which a male aboriginal didj player took questions from the audience. I stood up and asked for help with a particular problem I was having. Although I was aware at that time that women did not traditionally play the didj, I did not think my question would be a problem. He was silent and obviously disturbed. Then he very hesistantly, politely and honestly explained that in his tradition women were not allowed to play the didj and that he had taken a vow not to teach it to women, but then proceeded to give me some advice. I was so stunned by this fact and by his willingness, given this, to offer me advice, I promptly forgot what he said. :-) Things have probably changed a lot in the many years since that concert. But I’ll never forget how he was willing to go against his culture’s strictures in the name of internationality. At least that’s how I saw it at the time. It was a very moving experience.

Which is a good point at which to end this post. Playing the didj and listening to it is a very moving experience.

Here’s my only didj poem. I wrote it while I was still having trouble learning. I brought it to class and my teacher had me read it while he played his didj behind my reading. What fun!


ON LEARNING TO PLAY THE DIDJERIDU

I have trouble finding the low notes
in this unknown country
that does not give way to force
yet gives, and gives

I have trouble finding the low notes
that settle me safely like vast hands
into the sway of bone and flesh

I have trouble finding the low notes
even as I fill to an alert stillness...

Oh, feel the rocks unfurl their wings!


Resource: WickedSticks.com, an Australian site with all sorts of information, including gorgeous photos of didj’s.

‘til next time, keep dreaming,

Roswila

[aka: Patricia Kelly]

****If you wish to copy or use any of my writing or poems, please email me for permission (under “View my complete profile”)****My other blog: ROSWILA’S TAROT GALLERY & JOURNAL.

2 Comments:

At 8:56 PM , Anonymous Christopher said...

Nice poetry and essay,

a friend of mine, an elderly teacher, came into the teachers' lounge quite red-faced. when we asked her what was up, she told us how she had just been sharing her souvenirs from Australia with the 6th graders. she pulled out a mini-didj and then told us how she almost had a heart attack readling the tale of the didjeridu to the kids. of course, before telling the story, she had one of the children up front of class, trying to play the mini-didj.
so, she says she started in on the story, reading it in great dramatic fashion. the story goes, that once upon a time, there was a mean giant who was eating all the villagers, so the villagers dug a big hole and put two of their most lovely maidens
out by the hole to attract the giant. well, the
giant was lured in by the village babes and fell into
the hole....
at that point in the story, my friend said, she
read a bit further and the story said that the
men stabbed the giant with their spears and when
the giant was dying, he bent forward, and started
blowing into his own member which produced a
melodious sound. we asked, "did you tell the kids
that part!" {O my Gawd, no!" she replied.
us: "what did you do?"
her: "well i got this thing back from the girl who
was trying to play it and tried to change the
subject!"

it doesn't come across as side-splitting
funny here in blogland, but we all laughed
so hard our faces hurt.

 
At 9:36 AM , Blogger Roswila said...

Thanks for visting my blog, actually reading something :-D, and responding, Christopher.

Actually, the story about the didj's origins is very funny. I was ROTFL myself when I first read it a few years ago. I'd completely forgotten about it and it was fun to be reminded of it. Especially in the context of that teacher's predicament! LOL!

 

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