Silver Stage NEW News

The Mesmerizing Didjeridoo

[Montrose CO | The Mirror, April 11, 2022 | By Kathryn R. Burke].

Termites eat it before you play it. If you know how, you can play it for 40 minutes (or longer) without taking a breath. Native to Australia, the didgeridoo is a totally unique musical instrument unlike any other, and possibly the oldest musical instrument in the world. It’s also associated with the Aboriginal concept of “Dreaming.”

Termites eat it before you play it. If you know how, you can play it for 40 minutes (or longer) without taking a breath. Native to Australia, the didgeridoo is a totally unique musical instrument unlike any other, and possibly the oldest musical instrument in the world. It’s also associated with the Aboriginal concept of “Dreaming.”

An Aboriginal wind musical instrument, the didgeridoo is a long wooden flute, without finger holes, that produces a drone-like sound by blowing into it using a special breathing technique called circular breathing. Although it is similar in form to a straight trumpet, it is a flute. Made of wood instead of metal, it’s conical rather than straight, and much longer than a trumpet (or standard flute). Traditional didgeridoos are about 4 ft. in length, although some go as long as 10 feet. And of course, because it is made from wood eaten by termites, which creates its unusual and unique harmonic “drone tones,” the didgeridoo is definitely not like a trumpet or any other man-made instrument.

Because of the sound it makes, it is sometimes also called a “drone pipe.” Generally, the longer the instrument, the lower it’s pitch. Flared instruments and reticulated versions (curled and curved and somewhat resembling a French horn) produce a higher tone. The didgeridoo functions “…as an aural kaleidoscope of timbres” and “the extremely difficult virtuoso techniques developed by expert performers find no parallel elsewhere.” (Ref.: A. Baines, The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments, OUP, 1992.)

The didgeridoo is made from termite-hollowed out hardwood, usually eucalyptus. Termites like to eat eucalyptus. Like eucalyptus, termites are common to Australia and the didgeridoo is native to Australia. So basically, the didgeridoo is the trunk of a eucalyptus tree that has been eaten out by termites. The tree is cut down, the bark scraped off, the inside cleaned out and shaped, and a mouthpiece of beeswax may be applied. Often the didjeridoo is then painted with clan or family designs.

Why do we say the didgeridoo represents the Aboriginal concept of Dreaming?” What does that actually mean? According to one source, “Aboriginal music unites consciousness with the invisible laws and energy patterns of nature…a method for gaining knowledge of nature and its invisible Dreaming. … Traditionally, an Aborigine would go into nature and listen intensely to animal sounds, not just voices but also the flapping of wings or the thump of feet on the ground. The Aborigine would also listen to the sounds of wind, thunder, trees creaking, and water running. The essences of all these sounds were played with as much accuracy as possible within the droning sound of the didgeridoo. For the Aborigine, the observation of nature immediately requires a state of empathy, which leads to an imitative expression.” (Ref.: Voices of the First Day, Published by Inner Traditional)

Learn more about the Digeridoo, hear and see it played, at Museum of the Mountain West, Friday, April 29th, when Australian storyteller, Paul Taylor, performs Wonders Down Under, 6-8 pm at the museum, 68169 Miami Rd, 3 miles east of Montrose (off Highway 500).

Wonders Down Under is an interactive multifaceted performance adapted to any age level. Paul Taylor presents audiences with a unique look at the wonderful Aussie character through an exciting blend of stories, songs, dance, painting, theatre, and didgeridoo, drawing comparisons in American history and culture. Focusing on many of our cultural icons, his program honors both Aboriginal and European roots. Wonders Down Under is particularly relevant today, as it introduces audiences to the Aboriginal spiritual worldview, the “Creation Story,” which teaches us to pay attention, care for our water, care for our land, to care for our place wherever we may be.

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Sidenotes:

  • Learning and practicing the didgeridoo helped reduce snoring and obstructive sleep apneaby strengthening muscles in the upper airway, thus reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep.
  • The instrument is often accompanied by clap sticks to maintain rhythm, much as a drum. However, unlike a drum, clap sticks are used to strike one another, and sometimes, even people as well.
  • There are at least 45 names for the didgeridoo, several of which suggest its original construction was of bamboo.
  • Although it is now in use around the world, the didgeridoo is still most strongly associated with Indigenous Australian music. It was, and still is, used for cultural and ceremonial observances, and traditionally played only by men. Didgeridoo music, played by non-Aboriginal women, and especially performers of New Age music regardless of gender (to play or even touch a didgeridoo) is considered cultural theft.
  • Listen here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN-542IYoE0

References:

A Baines, The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments OUP 1992

Neuenfeldt, Karl, ed. (1997) The Didgeridoo: From Arnhemland to Internet. Perfect Beat Publishers.

Aboriginal Art & Culture. Alice Springs, Australia.

“History of Didgeridoo.” https://www.aboriginalart.com.au/didgeridoo/what is.html
“Dreamtime Introduction.” aboriginalart.com.au/culture/dreamtime

Wickipedia

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Didgeridoo

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_music_of_Australia

Shady Ladies and Saloons
A story of booze and brothels

[March 21 2922 | For the Blue Sage Center for the Arts | By Kathryn R. Burke]

Join me Wednesday in Paonia at the Blue Sage Center for the Arts, where I will be giving this story at 1 pm—with a few twists and updates to fit the venue and location. And lots of pictures. I had a lot of fun putting this presentation together. Some of it I discovered while visiting or working in many of the places we will talk about. I often met with historical societies and museums, sometimes authors, and as a publisher of books and magazines about a colorful time. Some of it you’ve probably heard before. And of course, I work for the Museum of the Mountain West in Montrose, a perfect source for the colorful history of the old west around the turn of the last century.

The rest? I did some research, looking into (sometimes dubious) sources, all purporting to be true, of course. What it boils down to, though, is…storytelling. Think about the word HISTORY. His – story.  Or in this case, “Her—story. History is really an edited collection of facts and fiction. “Truth” changes to suit the teller (or sometimes the political and religious views of the time). But the story told is still organized and relayed from the perspective of the teller—in this case, me. What I am about to tell you is the result of personal observations, the, stories I’ve been told by “old timers” who remember stories they heard from generations before them, combined with books about local history by respected local authors who’ve researched and written about the area and era.

So with this presentation in Paonia, let’s learn a little about the often-infamous, never-boring stories, of an enterprising, very colorful era.

Bars and brothels went hand-in-hand with the boom and bust cycles that characterized America’s “wild west” from the 1870s though the turn of the 20th Century. According to the .U.S. Census, in 1870, males outnumbered females more than 95 percent! By 1880 and through the turn of the century, it averaged out to around 2 to 1, which was about the same throughout all the mountainous mining areas, including Arizona. Looking at those numbers, it’s easy to see why women of easy virtue could make a good living. For the girls—known variously as soiled doves, shady ladies, fancy women, saloon girls, horizontal employees, ceiling experts, ladies of the line, sporting women, and Painted Ladies (for cosmetic embellishments, especially eye makeup)—employment as a prostitute was often short-lived. Some married, more died young, and a fortunate few became madams, often becoming quite wealthy in the process. A few became famous for nefarious activities such as cattle rustling, or my personal favorite, trying to cut the living heart out of a rival. Many were known for their good deeds, helping during difficult times, such as the Spanish Influenza, or helping the less fortunate, earning the prototypical term “whore with a heart of gold.”

At with all stories, it’s up to the teller…and listener, to determine truth or tall tale.

As fortunes were made and lost by miners searching for gold and silver, they also peaked and plummeted in the businesses that slacked their thirst and supplied (paid) female companionship. In frontier towns populated almost entirely by men, saloons were the social center of life.

Most mining camps, at least in the early days, were more portable than permanent. Enterprising saloon keepers hauled whiskey in wagons and set up tent that also served as a temporary social center in frontier towns populated almost entirely by men. Drinking and gambling (usually faro) were the chief forms of recreation, and the place was a clearing house of local news. And probably the only place they would see a woman.

Brothels and bars were in tents or make-shift cabins. Often both occupied the same location, making it easier for a patron to enjoy a boots-on quickie, go next door for a drink and a smoke, and maybe a game of faro, then hop back on his mule and head up to his claim before somebody jumped it.

By 1875, many of the mining camps (where the claims had not played out) had grown to towns. Sometimes a humble miner’s cabin was the first structure in what would become a great city. And almost without fail, the first permanent structure in town was… a bar.

Saloons, gaming halls, cribs, and brothels quickly replaced the portable tents and wagons with more permanent structures. Unfortunately, most built of wood. And since wood stoves were the common heating source, fire was a constant threat.

But other camps told a different story. Stone and brick structures, some 3-stories tall replaced the old shacks. Even in the less sophisticated areas, beautifully-crafted Brushwick bars and backbars with sparkling mirrors reflecting an array of libations replaced the stacks of booze boxes piled on, under, or behind makeshift, rickety wooden bars. But even with spitoons along the brass rail, most men were sloppy spitters, and saloon floors were often a sticky mess.

Eventually, as men married, “ladies of the night” were replaced by “respectable” ladies of the day (i.e. wives and daughters). Bars and brothels were labeled an evil influence, and although they continued to flourish less publicly, most were soon replaced by theaters and opera houses as towns became gentrified and “family” entertainment popular. This continued until “The Great Drought” which shut everything down, and until restored, many bar (with our without brothels) went dark and decayed from disuse.

But this is a story of boom and bust.  Many of those busted bars are booming again thanks to non-profit organizations that support them. Brothels, too, haven’t quite disappeared –just read current news stories for confirmation.

When I share my “herstory” with you, I will show a wonderful group of old photos of the past, and tell some of those stories, like the one about the lady who tried to cut the living heart from her rival.

See you in Paonia on the 16th. We’re gonna have fun!