Who am I and why am I playing didgeridoo? I wrote this post for anyone who comes across my didgeridoo videos and wants to know a bit of my story.

I think it was inevitable that I’d someday meet and fall in love with the didgeridoo but this could have taken a lot longer, if not for a recent chance encounter. Over the 2023 Thanksgiving holiday — just six months ago, at the time of writing — I was visiting family and friends in Austin, TX. There were a few hours to kill before my flight back home to Boston, and some of us were having an impromptu musical jam with frame drums and a handpan. What other instruments could we bring into the mix? My host and musical companion K.K. offered to bring out a plastic “travel” didgeridoo.

Really? The idea of a travel didgeridoo struck me as somewhat hilarious, because I thought of the didgeridoo as a necessarily huge and unwieldy instrument. Not the kind of thing anyone would take along for a casual trip. My only real exposure to this instrument had been to see one on display as a decorative item in a friend’s living room years earlier. I had no idea people even played them outside the aboriginal cultures of Australia. But now, I was being asked if I wanted to try blowing into one myself.

I almost said, “No, I’ll pass.” Wind instruments weren’t “my thing.” It had been quite a long time since I had played the recorder, and then briefly the French horn, in grade school. Now in my late forties, if I hadn’t been busy enough with the guitar, well, I had just taken up the banjo, and I wasn’t looking to start yet another musical pursuit. But, on a whim, I said, “Yes, why not?” Learning a new musical instrument is hard, and I didn’t expect to have any joy at first, but why not?

Like many beginners, I took a gigantic breath and blew as hard as I could. Miraculously, I got a drone going on my very first attempt. I thought to myself, “That’s not supposed to happen!” It was beginner’s luck, but I fell in love with the instrument then and there.

What was special about it? The feeling of complete unity or oneness with the sound I was making. I had never experienced anything quite like it, and I knew I wanted to have that feeling again.

After getting home, I purchased a telescoping carbon-fiber “AirDidge” — the idea of a travel didgeridoo wasn’t so funny to me anymore! — and I kept practicing my drone technique on it. Later, at my New Year’s Eve 2024 party, I demonstrated a basic drone for a few friends, and one of those friends, Roman E., turned out to be an experienced didge player who gave me a quick introduction to circular breathing. I took my AirDidge with me to New York — now benefiting greatly from its travel-readiness — where I spent two months with a relative who had been going through a serious health issue. During that time, I found relief from the stress of the situation by practicing didge and learning how to circular breathe. By the end of February I was doing it, I was really circular breathing. Later on, I distilled my learning process into an instructional video on circular breathing.

My first handcrafted didge was an amazing agave in B by Kyle Bert. Playing it for the first time was a totally magical and transformative experience. Like playing a tree. Here’s my first video with this instrument. I made a few more videos following that one and here I am right now, writing this post to share the backstory.

I guess my progress with didge has happened quickly so far, but in a way, it hasn’t been that quick because I’ve been unknowingly “preparing” to play didgeridoo for much of my life. Here are some of the waypoints on my musical journey that prepared me to play this instrument, even though I had no idea they were leading me towards the didgeridoo at the time:

  1. I learned how to sing. This was a deliberate effort I made, starting in my thirties, to face one of the biggest fears I had had in life. Practicing voice has given me an understanding of what’s happening in my vocal tract, and the didgeridoo is basically a long tube that extends the vocal tract. Some of my vocal explorations have included the basics of overtone singing — learning to amplify specific harmonics — which I now find myself doing all the time on the didgeridoo.
  2. I made music with other drone instruments. My album Uncommon Drones features me playing the Indian drone instrument, the tanpura. I never expected a tanpura album to be a “hit” but interestingly enough, it’s the one album I’ve put out there that people seem to spontaneously discover and actually buy. Along with tanpura, I make drone music with Himalayan singing bowls and I have a pretty large collection of them. A while back, I even carried one around with me everywhere I went for a few months.
  3. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring musical tuning systems and musical acoustics. You can find some of my articles on tuning related topics here. How does this relate to the didgeridoo? Basically, didgeridoos are acoustic laboratories. Maybe that’s true for every instrument, but with didgeridoo, it’s just wild what’s going on in there. When I play didgeridoo I feel like I’m hearing things that I’ve previously spent a lot of time reading about in books and articles on musical acoustics and discussing in online forums about “xenharmonic” tunings.
  4. I composed two albums of classical canons: Canons and Meteorite, and I continue to write them. In one way, canons live at the opposite end of the musical spectrum from didgeridoo music. But writing canons has made me fascinated by all kinds of music that are created under tight constraints, with limited musical resources. In one sense, the didgeridoo’s possibilities are endless, but as far as the didge’s melodic capabilities, I think it’s fair to say that they’re quite limited, and I find myself fascinated by what’s possible given those limitations.
  5. I practice meditation. You can read some of my mindfulness-related essays here. How does this connect with didgeridoo? I think of didgeridoo playing as a form of meditative breathwork.
  6. I practice improvisation. In 2022, I challenged myself to create, record, and publish a new guitar improvisation each day for a month. That’s one of my favorite experiments I’ve ever done. You can see some of my guitar improvisation videos here. My experience with improvisation helped me quickly get into a mindset with didgeridoo of: “I’m going to start making music with it as soon as I can, and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” That might be an obvious approach for some people, but because I have something of a classical musician in me, it takes a conscious intention for me to do that!
  7. I’ve spent a bunch of years tinkering with microphones, preamps, DAWs, and audio plugins. So basically, I have an interest and some experience in making audio recordings, and videos too. All that came in handy when I started making recordings and videos with didge.

That’s the story so far. As I write this in May 2024, the didge is still a very new part of my life, but I believe I’ve been working up to playing it for several decades now. Do I promise to be true to the didgeridoo in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health? Yes, I do! And what for? To continue experiencing that magical sense of unity that the enveloping sound and the tactile vibrations of the didge can create, and to share that experience with others if I can.

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