Monday, July 19, 2010

Playing the Didgeridoo - Believe it or Not, I Used to Be Worse

This weekend, practicing at home, I played my didgeridoos - all four of them - as if I really knew how to play them. This wasn't always the case. This from the book I am working on, "Raccoons Respect My Piss - But Watch Out for Skunks: My Metaphor for Life on a Planet Not of My Choosing and How I Finally Came to Terms."

We pick up on the action three years ago ...

I was downtown for my third conference in six weeks, the NAMI national convention. I rolled in late in the afternoon, checked into my hotel, then headed over to the venue, in time to play my didgeridoo at the evening talent show. Trust me, didgeridoos make perfect sense in California. I lived in Australia for five years - wasn't interested. Then, not long after my arrival in my new neighborhood, I happened to walk into a coffee shop and walk out with a didgeridoo.

This one was made out of local desert yucca and had the look and dimensions of an alphorn. Most didgeridoos are way smaller.

I arrived home with my new purchase, perplexed at why I wasn’t able to master the thing in five minutes. I used to play the trombone. What could be so friggin’ hard about getting one note out of a glorified stalk of desert yucca? Don’t these things come with tech support?

I spent the ensuing week producing noises reminiscent of the beans scene from “Blazing Saddles.” The only reason I persisted was because I knew it could be done, sort of like the Wright Brothers. They were willing to put up with failure because - thanks to birds - they knew flight was possible.

But some guy or gal thousands of years ago picking up a hollow log in some pristine rain forest? How did he or she know “beyond flatulence” was feasible? What kept this person going? What on earth was going through his or her mind? The burning philosophical question.

By the end of the first week I had progressed to fog horn. But I could only sustain the sound for five seconds at best. I set to work on my newsletter, but there was my didge in the corner, mocking me. An hour later, hyperventilated and discouraged, I began asking myself, how well does yucca burn? One last toot. Something happened. Something that faintly resembled the sound of a didge.

Over the next few days, I was able to work on reliably producing the didge sound and sustaining it beyond five seconds. One day, I felt confident enough to take it out into the back yard. The woodpeckers offered encouraging percussive chatter. A hummingbird flitted over and checked me out. Good omen.

My backyard experiences started to take on a spiritual quality. By now I could get a drone going for twenty seconds, with a range of subtle tones and harmonic overlays. Looking out across to the mountains under a cobalt sky, I was able to produce the OM of the universe. Everything stems from vibration:

“When all things began, the Word already was … So the Word became flesh.”

Then I took my didge out under the night sky. Up at 3,500 feet, they polish the stars every night. For this particular occasion, the Forest Service had just finished lowering the moon to just above tree-top level and thoughtfully provided an ambient soundtrack of croaking frogs.

I held off on my didge, allowing myself to become one with my surroundings. Then, I brought the didge to my lips, content to just blow air through it. Finally, I was ready. I drew in a relaxed breath, and looking up at the canopy of the heavens, I sounded my OM into a frog-enriched cosmos.

Now, here I was at the NAMI conference, toting around my didgeridoo. For some reason, the sight of the thing induced people to stop and ask for a demonstration. My only purpose for being at this conference was to meet people, and this was good. So, not content with talent night, I brought my didge with me the next day to the conference.

If you have never brought an oversized didge with you to a national conference, you are missing out on a major life experience. People literally stopped me in the parking area outside the hotel, and I obligingly honked on demand. Going to get a coffee – honk on demand. Walking into the lobby – honk on demand. Walk into the exhibit area – honk on demand. NAMI bigwigs, leading doctors, authors, speakers – honk on demand. Patients, family members – honk on demand.

And now you know why NAMI has banned didgeridoos from all their conferences. Ha! But there's still NAMI walks.

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