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Blowing It All on Drones : You Too Can Do the Voodoo That Didjeridoo Do So Well

February 08, 1996|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Didjeridoo fever is here.

And there's only one cure: Hear one or play one.

You can hear one--or several, actually--at a pair of solo performances by Paul Taylor called "Matilda and the Dreamtime," Saturday at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library.

You can learn to play the didjeridoo at a workshop Feb. 18 at Joseph's, A Shaman's Journey in Laguna Beach, or Feb. 25 at the Folk Music Center in Claremont.

OK, but what's a didjeridoo?

It's believed by many to be the world's oldest existing musical instrument; the aboriginal people of Australia believe that it sprang directly from the Dreamtime, the period during the creation of the world. The instrument, from 3 to 9 feet long, is usually made from a branch of a eucalyptus tree that has been hollowed out by termites; the mouthpiece is fashioned from beeswax. Bamboo, and even PVC pipe, can also be used.

The didjeridoo is often used to imitate the sounds of animals and nature. But the most astonishing aspect for most newcomers to the instrument is that good players can seemingly keep its drone going from now till Tuesday without taking a breath.

The secret lies in circular breathing, a technique that Taylor believes anybody can master. One merely blows air out the mouth while taking air in through the nose, using the cheeks as a reserve. Impossible?

"I teach a lot of 10-year-olds, and they pick it up very easily," said Taylor, 37, by phone last week from Denver. (He was born in Adelaide, Australia, and lives in Laramie, Wyo.) "It's like riding a bike. It took me six months, but the only real barrier was deciding to learn it."

According to Elizabeth (Betsy) Zujzzda, some people take months to pick up the technique; for others it's a matter of days. She'll teach circular breathing and drone techniques as well as talk about the history, myths and legends of the Aborigines at Joseph's (Feb. 18, 1:30-3:30 p.m., $20).

A relative newcomer to the instrument, Zujzzda saw her first didjeridoo nine months ago at an arts and crafts mart in Pasadena. She made a didjeridoo from conduit pipe that same night but didn't conquer circular breathing until two months later, when her mother bought her a beginner's guide to the instrument.

Taylor first encountered the didjeridoo in the early '80s as a social worker aiding Aborigines in the remote north of Australia. At his concert, he'll also tell stories and sing traditional folk songs.

The instrument's name is also spelled didgeridoo, didjeridu and didjereedoo. Depending on the aboriginal tribe you talk to, it's known as a yidaki, yiraki, yiraga, yurlunggurr, ihambilbilg, magu and kanbi--and about 40 other names. Many Western aficionados simply call it "the 'doo."

Whatever its name, the instrument's uncanny drone seems to "resonate" with the soul, and it's now being used in physical and mental therapy. McGonigal, who will teach the workshop at the Folk Music Center in Claremont (Feb. 25, 2-5 p.m., $20), calls himself a resonance therapist and works with patients at the Simonton Cancer Center in Santa Barbara.

"It definitely has a healing aspect," Taylor said. "Among the aboriginal peoples of Australia, it was primarily used in a ceremonial way, for singing and dancing, but it also has traditional use in a healing capacity--both for the player and for anybody being touched by the sound.

"Certainly for the player, it's very energizing. You're using yogic breathing techniques, full-lung capacity and getting into a rhythmic pattern. In a way related to reflexology, I even believe the buzzing of the lips required to play the didjeridoo acts in a healing capacity."

New Age nonsense? Taylor views it another way.

"The Southwest Native American Indians do their corn dance because they believe by singing and dancing it helps the corn to grow. Science does not accept that. But when science decides to play music to a plant, and plots it on a chart, and finds that the plant grows better"--which science has now proven in numerous experiments--"then science accepts the fact that music helps plants to grow, which native peoples all over the world have known forever.

"There's a lot of truth in our science, but there's also a lot of truth in the oral traditions of aboriginal people all over the world."

* What: "Matilda and the Dreamtime," a didjeridoo concert with Paul Taylor.

* When: Saturday, 7 and 9 p.m.

* Where: La Sala Auditorium, San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, 31495 El Camino Real.

* Whereabouts: Exit Interstate 5 at Ortega (74) Highway; go west. Turn right onto El Camino Real.

* Wherewithal: $5. Children 12 and under, $3.

* Where to call: (714) 248-7469.

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