The Didgeridoo Debacle
From Melbourne, Australia
That cackle of a kookaburra was unmistakable. Thuds that sounded like a hopping kangaroo were quickly followed by the monotonous drone of a bumblebee and the howl of the dingo as it stalked its quarry in the harsh Australian outback.
Thankfully, I was far away from such a landscape of rugged wilderness. In fact, I stood by a colorful souvenir shop on Swanston Street in downtown Melbourne watching the didgeridoo player perform his musical magic.
“Only 165 Australian dollars!” he exclaimed, “for an totally authentic, termite-eaten Australian eucalyptus, crafted painstakingly by skilled Aboriginal craftsmen.” Of course I could buy the cheaper Indonesian variety that was made of bamboo and could ‘easily crack’, or cheaper still, walk away with a modified PVC tube for $10. Much like the luxury car salesman, the shopkeeper assured me that there was nothing like owning the real thing!
I eyed the heavy beauty in front of me, swathed in esoteric Aboriginal insignia. The intricately painted body added to its mystique. ‘It was now tourist shopping time,’ I had reminded myself. ‘And the son could do well with a change from his usual violin…’’
For what seemed like an hour in the store, I tried out the heavy instrument with no success. All I got out of the didgeridoo were a few squeaks and hisses; sounds, which the storekeeper immediately pointed out, were coming from my vocal chords – and not through the lips. This was sacrilege in the hallowed world of wind instruments.
“It’s all about circular breathing,” he persisted. “The lips should flutter, as the breath is forced out in a drone…and you breathe in at the same time.”
To me that seemed as convoluted as patting my stomach while rubbing the head. Watching my futile attempts, the storekeeper recommended the expedient of filling my mouth with water before trying out the circular breathing technique. “Or you can blow bubbles like a baby, and try the same thing…” he added.
Although not entirely convinced, I eventually fell for the exotic. Thirty hours and three connecting flights later, I was spotted lugging home an overweight, oversized wind instrument, later tucking it carefully for the magic moment to arrive.
It was birthday time and gift was opened with ceremony. The son shrieked for joy – or so it seemed – as he grasped the beauty in his hands. I also handed him a how-to DVD ($30) and an audio CD ($25) and a didgeridoo booklet ($15), that explained in painful detail the secrets of sucking through straws, fluttering the lips, and the art of breathing circularly – albeit with water-puffed cheeks.
For the next few days I could hear some muffled attempts and squawks from his room. Then there were none.
My son now plays the violin very diligently.
– In my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.