The instrument - fabled into existence tens of thousands of years ago, but more familiar to Western ears in the last few decades - is made from the branches of the eucalyptus and gum trees. Hollowed out by hand or more traditionally by the white ants and termites that live in the wood, the unique tones originate with the shape of a player's lips. The device is said to be the source of the creatures in Australia's outback; in the beginning of time, when there was only the didgeridoo, the sound of the instrument spontaneously spawned the animals in Australia. From its deep vibrations came the kangaroo, the wallaby, the platypus, the birds. Traditionally, the didgeridoo was played only by Aboriginal men during ceremonies. A female co-worker who once bought one during a trip to Queensland was told to "make like you're giving a zerbert" to play the thing. She did, and then she gave it away.

The popularity of the instrument flared so much in the mid-'90s through the 2000 Olympics that Australian officials feared over-harvesting of eucalyptus trees to keep up with consumer demand. The government issues 3,000 permits per year to harvest an equal number of instruments: An informal survey at one Northern Territory boutique revealed that 9,000 had been sold there in 1999 alone.

The didgeridoo is now too daunting for most to attempt to play and more or less ignored in the U.S. since Dick Ebersol and the rest of NBC Sports fled Aussieland, but San Antonio's Charlotte Jorgensen is trying to turn us on to how good the didg can make us feel.

What makes the didgeridoo most interesting to both Jorgensen and Phil Jones, a renowned didgeridoo player, yoga practioner, and visitor to San Antonio is the deep concentration necessary to breathe and play the instrument. Skilled didg players continually inhale as they exhale, known as circular breathing, creating an unbroken, droning sound differentiated only by the movements of the mouth.

"It's a musical tool that is meditative," says Jorgensen, who with her husband opened Synergy Studio in Olmos Park in January 2002. "Phil uses it in his daily meditation. He feels that the vibrational sound is part of healing the body."

Jones will visit Jorgensen's studio Saturday, January 25, to lead a class of 20 in learning to play the didgeridoo. By the end of the three-hour session, Jorgensen says, participants should "have the hang of it to play it. But not everybody gets the circular breathing right away. That pause between in and out goes away - it's very unusual."

To give the didg a try for yourself (without the difficult breathing or worry of deforestation), see www.charly-didgeridoo.com/live_uk.php3. •

Saturday, January 25
$20 advance, $25 door
Synergy Studios
5225 McCullough
(in The Yard)
For reservations or more information,
call Charlotte Jorgensen 824-4225, ext. 1

More by John Brewer



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