Do you didgeridoo?

April 07, 1994|By Patrick A. McGuire | Patrick A. McGuire,Sun Staff Writer

Have you been held back from a career as a musician simply because the only half-way musical thing you can do is stick your tongue out and blow a raspberry?

Good news, folks: your time has come. This weekend at one of several workshops at the eighth annual Baltimore Folk Festival at Bryn Mawr School, you can learn to play the Australian didgeridoo -- a hollowed out eucalyptus log whose distinctive bass drone comes from the lip-buzzing action you get only with a really wet raspberry or Bronx Cheer.

"You can also scream or bark through the log," says didgeridoo virtuoso Keith Lehman, a Baltimore native who has never been to Australia and, in fact, learned to play his instrument by listening to a guy in California play his over the phone.

Such is the unformatted world of folk music, where Charley forever rides the MTA, and the music is so close to the roots it comes literally right off the bark.

"Our goal," says Sherri Anderson, of the Baltimore Folk Music Society, sponsor of the festival, "is to try to expose Baltimore people to folk traditions and folk dance they have never been exposed to before."

The two-day festival begins with a concert at 8 tomorrow night featuring local acoustic groups Magpie and Terra Nova.

The heart of the action, though, takes place Saturday with an all-day schedule of live music, dance performances and storytelling on several stages, as well as a full afternoon of jam sessions, craft displays and folk workshops.

Among the workshops are sessions on dance calling, gospel singing and English ritual dancing. Mr. Lehman's workshop on the didgeridoo at 2 p.m., will include free lessons in playing the instrument as well as a brief history lesson.

Billing it as "one of the oldest instruments in the world," he notes that Australian aborigines discovered that the sound of the hollowed-out eucalyptus log resembled the natural cacophony of animals, birds and bees.

"It's a guttural drone from the dawn of time touching the heart and soul of modern mankind," says Mr. Lehman, who notes the instrument has become popular as a meditation instrument in the new age scene.

In the past 30 years or so, pop music groups also have experimented with the sound of the didgeridoo -- most recently, the Australian group Outback included it in several of their tunes and other "Aussie rock" bands copied it.

Mr. Lehman, who plays no other musical instrument, says he fell for the sound the first time he heard it in a Baltimore music store.

"I just had to have one," he says, "and I took to it like a duck takes to water."

He bought his didgeridoo for about $200 and found several American versions made out of cactus.

He has since learned to make and sell inexpensive versions out of ordinary PVC pipe.

Perhaps because the folk tradition finds as much value in common PVC pipe as an ancient eucalyptus tree, its appeal cuts across all ages.

Thus, a folk festival, like this one, includes a wide spectrum of styles, from the bluegrass group Jackstraw to the zydeco band Pair O'Dice Playboys, to the modern acoustic blend of Pete Kennedy and Maura Boudreau. Mixed in with the Saturday afternoon schedule of dance groups including Tir Na nOg and the Club Hill Cloggers are popular local singers Linda Baer, Sue Trainor, Anne Louise White, Grace Griffith, and Tony McGuffin.

The festival closes Saturday night with a 7 p.m. concert in Centennial Auditorium featuring Wild Geese, the Trinidad and Tobago Steel Band and Sankoufa Dance Theater.

"The nice thing about folk music is that it appeals to all ages from children through octogenarians," says Ms. Anderson.

"And I do see a lot of younger people becoming more and more interested in folk music. But lately I've seen a lot of people in their 30s and early 40s who tell me 'I never liked folk music before but I'm sort of getting into it.' "

Baltimore Folk Festival

Where: Bryn Mawr School, 109 W. Melrose Ave.

When: 8 p.m. concert Friday; Saturday events begin at 11:30 a.m. and end with a 7 p.m. concert

Tickets: $7 each, Friday and Saturday for Baltimore Folk Music Society members; $10, non-members; $3 children; two-day tickets: $12, members; $18,non-members; $5 children; family rates available

Call: (301) 565-3650 or (410) 889-7429

LISTEN TO FOLK

To hear Magpie, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800.

In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338.

Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6189 after you hear the greeting.

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