Monday, July 16, 2012


Tomorrow the library's summer reading program special event is "Didgeridoo Down Under," an Australian themed program. Well, what is a didjeridu or didgeridoo?

The didjeridu is the main musical instrument of the Aboriginal peoples of Northern Australia. The instrument is simply a hollow tube of wood that becomes a sophisticated wind instrument in the hands of a skilled player. Traditionally, it was not used as a solo instrument, but as an accompaniment to vocal music.

The actual instrument is made from a piece of wood or bamboo, about 4 or 5 feet long, usually a natural branch. Eucalyptus that has been hollowed out by white ants is considered ideal. The open wooden tube is blown at one end. Sometimes there's a mouthpiece of wax, clay or hardened gum used to hold the player's lips as they vibrate as with a modern brass instrument.

The didjeridu only plays 2 notes, a fundamental and an overtone a major 10th higher, an acoustical oddity. The usual explination for the overtone at the 10th is the differences in diameter at parts of the tube, coming from a natural branch.

Soaking the instrument in water is said to make a mellow tone, while playing a dry instrument creates a flat tone that does not carry well. Sometimes water is poured down the inside of the tube if the instrument dries out while it is being played. 

Technique goes beyond the vibrating lips. The overtone is produced by lip pressure. Tongue movements create intricate rhythmic patterns. Different tone colors come from altering the shape of the mouth cavity and the position of the tongue.

The didjeridu is a combination of a drone and a rhythm instrument. The sound must continue, so breathing must continue for a continuous air stream. Breathing is done through the nose, with extra air stored in the cheek and pharnyx to be used while the player is breathing.

Additionally, the player makes hummed chords against the drone, and uses various types and styles of toungings, as well as changing color and timbre, providing a varied accompaniment for the singer and the song.

In the hands of a skilled player, the didjeridu is a very sophisticated instrument, even tough it comes from a simple branch.

More information on the didjeridu (or didgeridoo) and Australian music in general can be found in the Polley Music Library.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Music Education

NOT because I expect you to major in music.
NOT because I expect you to play or sing all your life.
NOT so you can relax or have fun.
BUT- So you will be human
So you will recognize beauty
So you will be sensitive
So you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world
So you will have something to cling to
So you will have more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good…
In short, more life.
Of what value will it be to make a prosperous living unless you know how to live?
~Author Unknown~

            Why do we have music education in our schools?  It can’t possibly be as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic can it?  The truth is that music is an elemental part of every person’s life weather they realize it or not.  Music has been used as a personal and cultural expression of identity in every civilization since the beginning of time.  Music education helps to cultivate and enhance this innate human characteristic, but that is not all.
            There are proven benefits to music such as developing the brain in language and reasoning and helping to develop creative thinking and problem solving skills.  In ensemble settings such as band, orchestra, and chorus students learn teamwork skills and discipline as well as, if not better than they would on any sports team.  Studies have also shown that students who took part in music instruction for four or more years scored an average of 100 points higher on their SAT’s than students who studied music for half a year or less.
            Despite all of these benefits, there are those who would disagree that music is a vital part of every child’s education.  It is not uncommon across the country to find funding being taken away from music/arts programs and given to athletic or standardized testing programs.  But there are some organizations that fight to keep music in our schools.  On the national level there is the National Association for Music Education (of whom UNL’s own Dr. Glenn Nierman has recently become the president-elect) and locally there is the Nebraska Music Educators Association.  Both of their websites have advocacy pages which we the public can use to stay informed and to get involved.  My best memories from elementary, middle, and high school revolve around a music classroom, what about yours?