Why Didgeridoo Is Beautiful: Looking Beyond the Novelty to the Benefits

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Last night we had the second fundraiser for the InDidjInUs Didgeridoo Gathering that will be here in Oregon in August. It felt so good to play and to be a part of a community that is open, welcoming, warm and delightful. I am blessed. I talked with a couple of the other didgeridoo players after the performances and we had a great conversation about didgeridoo and how it’s perceived here in the U.S. We agreed that from a mainstream point of view it’s a novel instrument, a curiosity that’s all at once cool, strange, awesome and out of the ordinary. This point of view of novelty has been on my mind for a long time now and is one of the things I love about didgeridoo but what comes with that is a sense that didgeridoo has something to prove before it’s fully acceptable as a viable instrument. Looking beyond the novelty to the benefits of didgeridoo can help with that acceptance so here are some things that came to mind that may help 

Didgeridoo is beautiful in so many ways. Musically, it has the capability to be an organic synthesizer, changing sounds by moving lips, tongue cheeks, or adding voice or changing air pressure, the list is long. It also has the capability of being an instrument to play songs on, to compose structured pieces on giving it a more listenable quality for those who are not as familiar with the didge. For those of you who play and want to learn more about composition you can read this article to get started. There is no reason why the didgeridoo couldn’t be a viable instrument in the musical world. It adds a lot to bands who use it and can span a wide range of feeling as a solo instrument from ambient to dance music and everything in between or as a collaborative instrument with other arts like dance or theatre. I’ve heard it played in so many different genres from death metal to jazz to classical music and much, much more. I’ve played with dancers and have seen it used in theatrical pieces where it has added an atmosphere of earthy goodness that we resonate with no matter what walk of life we come from. For an example of this Dubravko Lapaine's Tellingstories comes to mind.

I see didgeridoo as an instrument of connection between people from all walks of life. It doesn’t seem to matter where we come from, when we hear that low deep drone of didge it reaches to places in us that we didn’t know we had. It may sound esoteric to say that but when I busk or perform, I’ve watched people who have never experienced didgeridoo before or who have had little experience get so drawn in they want to know more and know where they can hear more or learn more.  They ask questions and listen intently to learn more about this instrument and when we’re done with our conversation, they leave with a smile. It’s fun to watch them walk away with a lighter step. When i see this, I feel good about the work I do.

I feel this kind of outreach is so important to the exposure of didgeridoo because it helps people reconnect with each other and with themselves in ways I haven’t seen other instruments do. All I have to do is look at my own life as an example. I’ll admit the connection I’ve made with this instrument took me completely by surprise because it was so out of the realm of my musical experience. I’ve always been a keyboard player so to have this most odd of wind instruments come waltzing into my life made me say “WHAAAAAT?” I’d never played a wind instrument before in my life until this one came along so I kept asking why this instrument? I think it’s because there was some deep learning I needed to do about myself and the way I could do it was learning how to breathe. What better way to learn to learn to breathe than to play didge? All of that oxygen getting to my brain has opened up years of stuffy, suburban mindset and blown it all away in a rhythmic song of ecstasy. I know that’s a bit poetic but there you have it. It’s one of the benefits that keeps me coming back to didgeridoo again and again. Perhaps this kind of connection is the biggest benefit of all. 

I fully believe the interest in didgeridoo is definitely there and that’s where myself and other performers, teachers and makers of this instrument come in. I enjoy talking to people about didgeridoo and showing them what it can do beyond just a drone and conveying the benefits of playing and/or listening to this crazybeautiful instrument. And I know there are a lot of other really great performers, teachers and crafters that do the same. But here’s the catch for for all of us, as much as I would love to bring the didgeridoo into the mainstream, I think it’s important that it makes the mainstream on it’s own terms.  The mainstream has a terrible habit of exploitation and didgeridoo has already fallen too far into this pit through the tourist trade. It’s far too beautiful of an instrument for that. So it’s a delicate balance and I don’t have any clear answers except to keep connecting, learning and sharing about didgeridoo in a way that's respectful and that can bring out its best qualities. This is the best way I can think of how I can do my part to help grow this community. So, with that said, it’s back to work.

Thanks for reading this.



Pamela Mortensen

Performer, musician, composer and mad scientist of sound and soundscapes. Mostly plays didgeridoo but also plays keyboard, sings and loves synthesizing sound both digitally and organically.