Birth of a Didgeridoo: A Journal in Photos and Words

This is a journey of a didgeridoo in the making in photos and comments. I’ve been wanting to do this project for awhile now, telling the story of how a didgeridoo is made so now here it is. As I work on it I will continue to add photos and commentaries until the didgeridoo is done. At the end, I plan on making a sample video of what the didge will sound like. The didge is one I’m making for a couple in Kansas. The wood I’m using is a yucca stalk, which is the flowering part of the yucca plant. The main reason I wanted to do this project is because many people ask me “how is a didgeridoo made?” This journal, I hope, can be an answer to that question.

Many thanks for coming along on this journey. Let’s begin…..

Day 1

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The stalk started off as a eight footer but since I need to make a D didgeridoo, I had to cut it down to around six feet to start with. This photo was taken just before I split it with the box cutter and the one butter knife you see in the photo. I usually use two butter knives but they were in storage somewhere. It didn’t take long to split it since the shell is fairly thin, which makes the making process a bit of a challenge - to hollow it out without breaking or compromising the shell.

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Splitting is done now. The one butter knife worked! It’s pretty bug eaten at the top end but has a fairly solid bell end. I think this is gonna be a good one with lots of resonance!

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And I’m done for the day. Got most of the material from one side out using my trusty 20mm gouge. The material in yucca is super soft - like a stringy, spongy material which makes it fairly easy to get out. Occasionally, I come across actual hard wood spots on the inside. This didge has a couple of these. Next step is to start the finish work with a smaller (about a quarter inch) gouge.

As you see, I do pretty much everything by hand. I like doing it this way mostly because it’s my meditation while creating. I get to really know the didge inside and out so by the time it’s shipped, it’s not just another instrument but rather a creation going out into the world to make more happy people.

Day 2

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The bug eaten bit of the second side. A lot of the top end of this didge was chewed up by a beetle. I know this for a fact because I found the body inside (sorry for “ew” factor). There are a lot of tracks and plugs left behind which makes my job a bit easier……At least until I get to the bell end.

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I have three main tools I use to hollow out a didge. The two you see here are the 20mm gouge and the quarter inch gouge. The third tool isn’t pictured but it’s a linoleum cutter which looks like a nasty claw from some prehistoric critter mounted in a handle. I use it to get the bulk of material out. It does a great job as you may imagine. The 20mm gouge is used to get the remaining material out while the smaller quarter inch gouge is used to do the detail work on the inside.

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And day 2 is done. I finished after dark but the didge is well on it’s way. I hadn’t planned on it but I got the second side mostly hollowed out. The red bit in the photo on the right is one of the hardwood spots I mentioned earlier. It’s not super hard but it is wood - about the hardness of bass wood so it’s easy to carve.

The next step is to do the detail work on the second half. See ya’ll tomorrow.

Day 3

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So I had a fatality today. I was doing some of the detail carving on the inside when I heard a snap. My quarter inch gouge is now in two pieces. I ended up finishing the detail work on the inside with a smaller gouge. It took a bit longer but the inside is done. You can’t really tell the work I’ve done from the photos but at least you know what the inside of a yucca didge looks like now.

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Day 4

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Time to glue up. This part of didge making is a race to see if you can get the didge back together before the glue dries. The steps are

  • Spread the glue evenly along the joint of one half

  • Put the two halves together and try to keep them together (more of a challenge than it seems)

  • Get the hose clamps on and tightened before the glue decides to dry.

Working with yucca and agave can be a special challenge because sometimes the shells are super soft and thin as is the case with this didge. But in tightening the clamps, I didn’t hear an cracking noises so it’s all good.

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And it’s tea time while I wait for the glue to dry

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Day 5

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Took the hose clamps off today and started the making the mouthpiece. The wood I’m using is poplar. It’s not the prettiest wood nor the hardest but it is a nice wood with a good consistency. Below are photos of the steps I take in cutting out the “doughnut” and gluing it on to the didge. It’s definitely not the quickest or most efficient way to do things but it still works in getting a nice comfy mouthpiece.

After cutting out the mouthpiece, I sand the inside diameter to the size I want which is usually around an inch and an eighth give or take a 16th of an inch. After the sanding, I’ll glue the mouthpiece doughnut onto the didge and secure it with electrical tape to hold it on tight. Seems like an odd thing to do but it works every time. Next up, sanding……lots of it.

Day 6

SANDING!

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And taping the bug holes with painter’s tape so when I pour the epoxy through the inside, it stays inside. I call this step blue measles.

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Day 7

Today is the first coating of epoxy on the inside. After mixing the epoxy, I poured it down the mouthpiece end so I can get a nice even coating and better coverage around the mouthpiece joint where it’s most critical. After the pour, I capped the ends with plastic bags to keep the epoxy in. At about four hours, I take the bags off and let the didge bask next to a warm heater to expedite the curing.

Day 8

Tuning day. So when this didge started out, the original stock was about seven and a half feet long. I had already cut about 18” off the bottom which sacrificed a beautiful large bell and took the stalk down to about six feet. The piece I cut off with the big bell will be used later for another didge later on. Since the stalk is so skinny, i knew I was going to have a fairly low note. It turned out to be a low Bb and I needed to make a D didge. So, I used a Japanese pull saw to tune it by cutting off the length bit by bit until i got a D. What was a six foot didge is now just under five feet tall.

The next step is pouring a second coating of epoxy through the inside from the bell end to get a nice even coating throughout the didgeridoo and to fill in any spots that were missed in the first coating.

Day 9

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So, I poured the second coating of epoxy through the inside of the didge and I made a boo boo for the first time in eight years. As it was curing, the didgeridoo was laying next to a heater and the epoxy hardened faster than I had planned. I ended up with a buildup that I had to sand out. It wasn’t too bad to work with since it wasn’t completely cured but cured enough to sand nicely. All in all, it took about half an hour to sand it out. Sometimes even the pros don’t get it right but that’s how you learn.

After sanding out the boo boo, I put on the first coating of epoxy on the outside. I’ve removed the tape from the holes so it no longer has blue measles and did some final sanding to get a nice surface. Nature’s paintbrush has blessed this didge with some really sweet spots. It’s going to be a beauty I think….. We’ll know soon!

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The Leave Are Clapping

Summer is slowly changing to Fall here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a good time for going inward and just observing quietly. I was sitting and observing leaves in the breeze the other day and this following poem came out. I don’t consider myself a poet but once in awhile a gem will come to me. It goes……

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Thank you so much for reading this. I really appreciate it! Share it, love it, read it as much as you like. If you really liked it please consider supporting more art and beauty and becoming a patron by following this link to my Patreon page. This really helps me to keep the music, art, poetry and anything else coming through.

In Gratitude and Love,

Pam

Playing Tip: RELAX and Just Be You

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This is a shorty so here goes.....

In the world of music and being a musician, performer, composer and teacher, I often see people who are trying to play like someone else. I’ll admit, I’ve fallen into this trap as well especially as a performer.  I remember times in the not so distant past, trying to play didgeridoo like this person or that person and falling flat on my face. It’s a special brand of self-torture I think we all engage in from time to time. Especially when we find someone who excites us so much we want to do what they’re doing. The truth is, we can’t do what they do, in the way they do it. And we shouldn’t. It leaves little room to find our own voice. I think there are a couple of reasons why we engage in trying to play like someone else. One is healthy and the other is not. It seems the healthy way is to play like your hero so you can use these skills as a springboard to explore your own voice and gifts. The unhealthy way is to keep playing like your hero in hopes of sounding like them. Enter the special brand of self-torture of feeling so unsatisfied with your own playing that often times you feel like quitting. So what can one do to get out of this trap if we find ourselves in it? I offer this tip.....

Just sit for a moment, let yourself breathe and your mind relax and then, when you really feel ready, just let yourself simply play your instrument and truly love what you hear.

That’s it. It’s that simple.

We live in a complicated world where we feel that to make things more complicated than they are is the way to success. The harder we work at something, the more we feel we’re accomplishing something. Actually, the opposite it true. If we can get ourselves to relax into what we’re doing and just love what we are hearing and allow ourselves to be where we’re at (i.e. engaging in non self-judgment or in “beginners mind”) then we stand a chance to finding that voice from within that is trying to express itself through you. This works as much in life as it does in making music. So if you find yourself trying to sound like so and so because the are sooooo cool, you can do that but let it be place where you can use it as a jumping off point to find your own expression.

Nuff said. Now go make some beautiful noise and love THAT!

Peace,

Pam

 

DIDGETREE NECKLACES: THE NEXT GENERATION

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The first two charms made from ironwood

 

 

So eventually this was bound to happen - I started carving the little DidgeTree charms out of wood for the past few days and the results are turning out beautiful. I love the idea of working with natural materials that are available all around me. Up until now, I had been working with a material called Apoxie Sculpt which is a two-part epoxy clay that I paint up to look like wood but I have to say, the real deal is so much more satisfying to work with. So, over the next few weeks, I'll be phasing out the Apoxie Sculpt and phasing in the wood. It just seems to make more sense. If you want to check out the available DidgeTree necklaces you can find them in my Etsy shop.

Many thanks and Peace All! 

 

Three Things That Make Me Happiest

I wanted to share an entry from my journal with you. I was pondering what make me happiest and basically there are three things. This is what they are.

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BEING IN NATURE

I am most happy when I'm in nature. At the moment, nature is the most honest and real thing to me. I don't mind being around people but sometimes I pick up energy from others and I don't always know how to let it go. Or i feel like I'm being silently judged for whatever reason. I don't feel that with nature. I can just be me and it's alright. There are no unnecessary judgments in the forest. Just pure isness.

 

 

 

 

 

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BEING CREATIVE

The second thing that makes me most happy is being creative. THIS is what i live for. The act of creating is balancing, centering and whole. It's my meditation. When i'm creating, all of the energies (human and otherwise) converge into the timeless now. Nothing else matters. What comes out of it can either be appreciated or not. This doesn't matter either because I love what I do and I put that love into what I do. It's the only way I know how to operate when it comes to creating. The high I get off of it is intoxicating. 

 

 

 

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LIVING LIFE SIMPLY

The third thing is living life simply. This is the best way I can think of to be. It's also what keeps me clear on what I really want from life. To really know what makes me happiest. I've never needed anything fancy like a big house or an expensive car or stocks or sparkling jewelry. It's all pretty but I'm just not into any of that. I'm perfectly happy sweet music, a candle and a stick of aromatic incense. A great cup of tea is heaven. A plate of yummy Indian food knocks it out of the ball park for me. Listening to birds, smelling the forest, a great conversation with a friend, walking barefoot, wrapping a cheerful scarf around my neck, all of these are some of what I love. Even just thinking about the things I love makes me smile because it's enough. It can all be very simple if we let it be.

So what makes you happiest? What really turns your crank? It's totally worth it to take the time to find out if you don't know yet. And if you do know what it is that makes you happy, just do that. It only makes sense, right?

Take care everyone!

Much Love,

Pam

Easing Work Flow: Six Simple Things I'm Learning from Didgeridoo

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When I practice, perform or record with didgeridoo or work on making a didgeridoo, I can be really focused on what I’m doing because I enjoy it so much that nothing else matters. But then there are those times when I can get so caught up in the "HOW AM I GOING TO GET ALL THIS DONE??!!" mindset that it nearly destroys the joy I take in being a creative entrepreneur and artist.  This is a leftover mindset I learned in my many other past jobs where I constantly had to think ahead, multi-task and hurry through the work. In short, I've become a bonafide workaholic. Can you relate?  If so, here are six things that didgeridoo is teaching me to help keep things simple and make my workload a little easier.

1. Just relax and do what's in front of you

Just this alone is a game changer. Practicing of didgeridoo (or any instrument for that matter) helps to narrow the focus to what you are working on in that moment by breaking things down into manageable, bite-sized chunks. 

2. Don't worry about the "how"

I can relate this to learning circular breathing. The more you focus on the "how" of anything the less likely you are able to do it because the mind can get so wrapped around the axle in thinking how it all "should" work. If this happens just go back to tip #1. 

3. Just simply enjoy what you’re doing in the moment

Who knew you could learn this from a hollow tube then transfer this experience to your work life? Focusing on the joy and experiencing the benefits of playing has helped me to enjoy the more tedious tasks of my business by focusing on the benefits of those tasks instead of thinking of them as odious. 

4. Take your time. Breathe.

This is a BIGGIE for me and it may be for you too. In this world, where we hurry to accomplish as much as we can, we can end up missing the whole point of doing the work in the first place. Learning to use breath with didgeridoo has taught me to simply hit the pause button and go outside for a break. 

5. The best work will get done in its own time

And not a moment before. Working on songs for didge (or any other instrument) is a process that really can't be forced when you're doing your best work. This is the practice of patience and just knowing that the work will get done. 

6. When you finish, you have every right to pause and smile for a job well done

This is pretty self-explanatory but sometimes in workshops I have people take their right hand and pat themselves on the back for getting through a workout. You've worked hard to finish the job so why not give yourself a pat on the back for it? You earned it. 

So there you have it. Six simple things you can do to help make the workload a little easier. In my own practice of these, I find that some are easier than others. For those that are a little harder for me, I stay patient and just know, eventually, I will get there when the time is right. It's not always easy but it's getting easier as i begin to shake the work-a-day mindset. Feel free to share some of your ideas or observations in the comments below. I’d love to hear them. Also, if you find this helpful, share it with your friends. Especially those whom you think may be workaholics. 

Many thanks for reading and take it easy

Love,

Pam

P.S.CALL TO ACTION! If you really liked what I have to offer here and want more of it, consider hoping over Patreon and supporting it by becoming a patron! Your contribution helps to bring more articles like this, music, videos and so much more! Thank YOU!! Smmmmoooch! :-) 

REDISCOVERING VISION: GALAXIE MANDALAS AND THEIR BEAUTIFUL EFFECT ON MY LIFE

I started drawing at the age of three when I drew my first horse with crayon. Many of us can remember this about ourselves - how we endeavored in art or music as a way of expression. After a long absence, I'm getting back into drawing beginning with these. I call them Galaxie Mandalas. I've been drawing them for a few years now but have only recently started to pursue them in serious practice. Like all other mandalas, they have been a source of meditation for me. they have also been a source of pleasure. To be able to step back after a few hours of work on these, it's really sweet to see what transpires on paper. 

These two Mandalas are the beginning. The one with all the curls doesn't have a name yet and has been more of a practice session in drawing on a larger piece of paper. But the one with the feathers (which is still a work in progress) has been medicine for me. This has been a powerful experience drawing this one. The eagle and owl feathers, the thirteen circles arcing towards the corners and every little dot have meaning to me. It's the wisdom of owl, the power of eagle, the Thirteen Grandmothers and all of the tiny dots that are all of Us who inhabit this planet. 

Later on down the road, I may consider lithographing or somehow making copies of these for purchase so others can enjoy the visualization of what could be. But for now, these photos are a small sampling of what is transpiring in life (in addition to music of course). If you think you would like a copy of one of these, do let me know by sending me an email. If I get enough response then I can make some limited edition copies for folks. Also, feel free to leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!
Many thanks and much Love Everyone,

Pam

NOTE: The quality of the photos don't really do these justice in capturing the subtleties or the softness. For that, I apologize.  

The Shaman Child

The Shaman Child was originally written in March of 2016 as a song, as prayer of finding one's way back to remembering who they are why they came here. It is my song and prayer and I believe the song and prayer of many in this moment. May you enjoy, find connection and be inspired by it. It is for all of us. If you wish to support more work like this along with the music, please consider becoming a patron. It helps me to bring more work like this to the world. I thank you and send you blessings! 

 

She is my teacher, my guide. But I left her in the forest long ago for a foreign life that I was told I wanted. I did not know what damage I would do with this action – this neglect. Sure, I would check in on her from time to time and find her sitting there, covered with her blanket. She seemed to be chanting. It seemed a very private moment to me so I left her alone......and continued my journey. Numb. Unfeeling. Indifferent. It’s been very long for me - full of sleepless nights of questions of “How” and “Why?” Trying to figure my way through troubles. Falling down  Getting up. Falling down again.......I am very tired.

Now, that existence is falling apart, crumbling like a wall that can no longer bear its own weight. I am uncertain and sometimes scared. I want to run away but feelings of responsibility linger even though I don’t know what I can do. I don’t want to be covered with the dust of this wall and die choking. I become still and I hear her voice calling me. I go to the forest now and I am walking and walking until I find my way back to my child. She is there, this Shaman Child, sitting and chanting, wrapped in her blanket. I become still again and listen. I hear her song. It is a prayer. A prayer for me to come back.

My heart splits and opens and I feel the softness within. She feels my presence and stops. She stands up and faces me. We look at each other for a moment. Silent. She is dirty faced, scratched and messy haired. She has bruises here and there and her clothing and blanket are tattered and torn. But she is a beautiful child – this Soul that has been aching for my presence. My energy. She is at once, afraid, strong, loving, angry, wary and weary. But she is forgiving.....

She looks into me with her clear eyes and conveys how much she has missed and loves me. She trusts that I will stay this time and opens her arms to welcome me back. The softness inside me makes me go to her. We fall arm in arm and hold each other. We cry together in relief.....in union....in Love. There….in the middle of the forest…..

      We are here.

             We are Blessed

                      We are Love.

                               We are home…..

 

Pamela Mortensen,  27 March, 2016 (revised 3 March 2018)

Four Things You Can Do to Ease Your Music Practice

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So, there you are practicing your instrument and BANG things start to go south. Fingers aren't going where they want, lips aren't doing what you want them to or your voice slips into an intonation that could possibly be used for an alien movie soundtrack. So you try harder but it seems like the harder you try the more bound up things get. F.R.U.S.T.R.A.T.I.O.N! We've all been there so here are four easy things you can do to help ease things up a bit.

  1. Breathe in slowly and breath out slowly three times. Be aware of breathing low feeling like your filling your belly like a balloon instead of using your shoulders. If your shoulders try to horn in, just relax them. 
  2. Bend over and let you arms hang and relax. Then very slowly come back up while you observe your breath. If you are older and feel you can't bend that far, do your best. The important part is breathing. 
  3. Shake your hands, arms, feet, legs to shake all the tension out. Just let it all go. 

Now, go back to your instrument or singing and see what happens. Chances are you'll feel a little more relaxed. You'll breathe a little better and breathing through what you're doing often helps you get through that snag. 

So, what happens if these don't work? 

4. If you find that things still aren't working, just stop what you're doing and go get a cookie......Seriously. 

Ok, you don't have to eat a cookie but stopping in the middle of frustration and letting things go frees you up to come back to it later on. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking that you have to keep going. You don't. Knowing when to stop is as an important part of practice as the doing. Here's why. It will give your body and mind the time it needs to process the techniques you're learning and it gives you time to calm down so when you come back later, you'll be a little bit better at what you're practicing. 

So, these are a few of the things I do in my own practice. I hope you find them helpful in yours. Let us all know by sharing your experience by leaving a comment below! You never know what others may find helpful. 

Happy practicing and keep making beautiful noise!

The Power of Music at Work

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Like many musicians, I have often been hit by muse, sat down, made or learned a piece of music and have come away feeling lighter and more at ease with the world. It’s really easy for me to get caught up in the creative fire of things, grabbing my power tools (i.e. a didgeridoo, Kurzweil keyboard, mixer and microphone) and pushing my sleeves up and going to work. I love that! My McDonald’s bred work ethic kicks in and bam, I’ve got a song. But what happens after the fact is where I run into some difficulties. Trying to “sell” people on the music has always been a wall that I’ve consistently run up against.  Like any other artist, I am not a natural born marketer and have to really work at trying to get it right. I try to list the benefits of the music I make when I'm releasing new work or works but often it comes off sounding like the sell job I'm trying to avoid. That’s where this article can come in to kind of explain the deeper purpose of what I do and hopefully communicating it in a concise way. So here goes. 

So what do you think of when I say “the power of music at work?” This was something that came to me when I was writing my Patreon bio the other day and I thought “this is an interesting phrase.” We have all heard the phrase “the power of music” but the “at work” part is something new. Music really is a workhorse of an art. I can’t think of any other art that has the power to move on all levels the way music does. That’s not saying other arts don’t have power, they do but music seems to be more powerful for us than most. It's in the background working away affecting us even when we're not aware of it. It's that tune that gets stuck in our heads and makes us smile every time we hear it. And it's that mantra that generates a calm and sane energy in a world that is all too often chaotic, crazy and disconnected.  I know from my own experience, playing and learning music at early age has helped to keep me connected to my essence or my higher self. I can solve problems a bit better and I can function a bit better after playing or composing for an hour or two. When I don’t play music for lack of time or whatever the reason, I get cranky. Seriously. I know many of who read this and who play music can relate. This is what I mean by “the power of music at work.” Here is how I can best sum it up:

Music is the kind of art that rolls its sleeves up and digs around in the dirt to help grow a garden for the mind and soul to thrive in. It grabs a screwdriver in one hand and a hammer in the other to help build a better home, a safer home by providing shelter for the spirit. It’s the rhythm that moves the body and spirit to dance our dance and the melody to sing our songs. And it’s the warm blanket that wraps around us to comfort and soothe us in times of despair, vulnerability and sorrow. It reaches in and grabs us in many different ways and helps us release the joy, the anxiety, the laughter, the pensiveness and all of the other thousands of ways we can feel. When we hear our favorite songs, we are moved into feeling better. When we play music we love, we experience connection with ourselves and others. When we feel better and feel that connection, we function better  and when we can function better, we can tap into our own power and clarity and open the gates to let creativity and imagination flow in. And when we can open the gates of creativity and imagination, there is nothing we can’t do. This is why I make music. To help both myself and others create a safe and inviting space to transform and transmute our world into a the place we would rather live in.

I honestly can't think of a better way to be of service.

Many thanks for reading! If you wish to share this, please do. I really appreciate it.

Be well,

Pam