Down Under Music

Students Learn To Make, Play Their Own Versions Of The Aborigines' Sonorous Didgeridoo

August 10, 2009|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,

From a meeting room at the back of a Baltimore County library, the high-pitched, yapping bark of a dingo emerged. It was followed by the cackling call of a kookaburra, then a buzzing sound not unlike a drill - and then a loud, deep droning noise.

The group of 15 or so inside the Lansdowne library room on Friday was learning to play an Aboriginal wind instrument called the didgeridoo under the tutelage of performer Raihan Alam of the Florida-based Didgeridoo Down Under, a program that aims to teach people about the instrument, the indigenous culture behind it and Australia, among other things.

"Your whole body literally becomes a part of the instrument," Alam said to the participants as they worked to buzz their lips and generate the sonorous sound and rhythms he had demonstrated, with several-foot-long pieces of PVC pipe.

The authentic long wooden tubes - which are used for prayer, cultural activities and storytelling - can be decorated with elements sacred to Aboriginal culture, Alam said, such as lizards, sea turtles and snakes.

Alam had brought along several didgeridoos, including one he had made of agave, as well as two others made in the traditional fashion, with the help of termites, whose industrious wood eating hollows the tubes. But, he told the group, "you can make a didgeridoo out of anything," whether it's plastic pipe, a cardboard roll or wood. "The important thing is that it is a tube."

Elizabeth Rafferty, a youth services specialist with the county library system, said the program fit with the summer reading theme: "Be Creative @ Your Library," for which she sought music and arts-related events.

"I thought this was a really interesting music program," Rafferty said. "This is something you can't just see anywhere."

That is what drew Lansdowne High student Angela Johnson, 15, to the event. Johnson, a flute player, said she hadn't known what a didgeridoo was. She even brought along a couple of friends.

"I thought it sounded cool," she said. "I'm glad we got to be part of it."

Catonsville High student Matt Storrs, 17, brought along his own didgeridoo - bought more than a year ago for an English project - in hopes of learning how to breathe circularly, a method that involves exhaling and inhaling at the same time to produce a continuous sound.

Storrs said he enjoyed the session, and he even managed to get some one-on-one time with Alam afterward to learn the breathing technique.

At 9 1/2 months, Eric Williams was letting his mother take the lead with the long PVC pipe. But he had mastered the key to playing the instrument, buzzing his lips with the best of them.

His mother, Ann Parlett of Riverview, had stumbled into the session by chance but walked away with a potential activity that she, her young son and her family could do together.

"He seems to like it," she said, watching Eric. "It's something different for him."

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