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The mystery of the didgeridoo

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (Aug 26/02) - Haunting, mysterious and ancient, the sound of the didgeridoo has been fascinating people for tens of thousands of years.

NNSL Photo

Steve Agopsowicz brought the ancient sound of the didgeridoo to the South Slave Friendship Festival in Fort Smith. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

And recently the sound of the traditional instrument of Australian Aborigines could be heard floating over Fort Smith.

When Fort McMurray's Steve Agopsowicz played his didgeridoo at the South Slave Friendship Festival, heads turned and kids came running to see what on earth was creating the sound.

"It really resonates with the spirit of the people of the North," Agopsowicz says.

In particular, he says there is a deep curiosity in the instrument among aboriginal people. "They may feel a connection to it."

In the North, he says, the closest parallel to the sound of the instrument might be Inuit throat singers.

The closest musical instrument in North American culture would be the Cherokee flute, he says, noting that is also used for spiritual reasons and for healing.

Agopsowicz says everywhere he goes there is a lot of interest in the oldest known musical instrument on the planet, known as a "yidaki" in the Aborigine language.

But the interest is more about its spiritual aspects, not just the music, he says.

Of course, there are also more down-to-earth questions, he says. "Mostly, how do you do that? How do you get that sound?"

That sound, if it can be described in words, is a deep, modulating rhythm unlike any other sound in the world.

Agopsowicz explains the traditional didgeridoo is made of a eucalyptus branch that has been eaten out on the inside by termites.

The remaining outer shell is as hard as concrete, and the sound is created by blowing into the instrument and vibrating the wood. The sound is enhanced by the termite tracks covering the inside.

Agopsowicz says he first heard the didgeridoo several years ago when his wife, an holistic healer, hired a player for one of her healing sessions.

"I was just amazed by his playing the didgeridoo, the power," Agopsowicz recalls.

Within 15 minutes, he was also playing the instrument, and he knew that it was the musical instrument for him.

In fact, he has also mastered the technique of circular breathing, allowing him to play without interruption for an hour at a time. Circular breathing basically involves breathing in through the nose while blowing out air from the cheeks.

Agopsowicz says the instrument has also helped him spiritually. "For me, it's been a life-changing thing, playing the didgeridoo."