Tag Archives: traditional instruments

Hovia Edwards and Women Playing Traditional Tribal Music

A couple of years ago, I came across a most interesting PBS documentary following young musicians from different backgrounds brought together for a single purpose. The series was called Soundmix, the Episode, “Five Young Musicians,” the purpose? To create a collaborative original piece of music.

How are these youth going to blend such distinct sounds?! I thought. Even harder, how might they give voice to each?

It was thrilling to learn the journey into music of each of the players – a Latin drummer from New York, a classical cellist from Cali, an improv New Orleans horn player, an old-time West Virginia fiddler, and Hovia Edwards, from Idaho, on the Native American flute – and to observe their creative process as they adjusted to each other, then bonded, learned from one another, and made a strange, glorious symphony all their own.

I was really excited because I lived for a time as a very young girl with my grandparents right down the road from Fort Hall Indian Reservation, where Hovia Edwards grew up. My big sister was the only Anglo in first grade! I used to walk down the road to the red brick schoolhouse and play with her at lunch… until a big, scowling girl decided she didn’t like me one bit and I was too scared to return. 🙂 As an adult I’ve found myself attracted to Native Americans and their culture, almost by accident. I certainly couldn’t have predicted being asked at age 20 to model in a $100,000 authentic Indian dress! But I feel humbled and blessed to have meandered barefoot on that ranch in Montana, feeding horses, posing in a teepee. (At the time, I was frightened and unsure, retreating from what seemed like a painful and terrifying future.) Later, I didn’t intend to meet people who would invite me to pray with them in sweat lodge, but their association has enriched my life. I finally begin to perceive the power of prayer. Every time, as the heat rises and the song begins to shift me from “out there” to connectedness, the same image comes to my mind: I see myself as a girl on a covered wagon crossing the plains and meeting the faces of our brown brothers and sisters as we journey through strange land. I really do!

I was gratified to learn that Miss Edwards represented the Goshute Tribe in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Native flutes are considered medicine, and are also used in courtship. Historically, only men played but by the 60s there were very few players left. In the 70s, a resurgence of interest in tribal people and custom popularized the instrument anew. I’m of the opinion that keeping any tradition singing is worth a tweak to convention. Young people need to know who they are! I believe in adhering as much as possible to ritual for the sake of continuity and cultural identity, but… I’m a white girl who goes to sweat lodges. What do you think I think of women playing instruments excluded to them for millenia? Of course I find it transcendent and inspiring! Moreover, I think it makes the circle complete. I believe that change can co-exist with tradition when the time and place, and therefore understanding, shift. For me, the real beauty exists in my view that, anymore, the world is a small and intimate place. We all benefit from sharing the best of our people with each Other.

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Filed under music, Salt Lake City

Aboriginal Australians and The Didgeridoo

I’ve never played a traditional didge so I can’t do a compare/contrast, but I confess I can’t really wrap my mind around the concept of random, non-harmonic frequencies. It really makes little difference to me at this point in my learning, since I can only do my trusty drone and one trumpet note, but that one trumpet note is exactly one octave higher. Is that simply not the case with the traditional didgeridoo? I don’t suppose I’ve heard as many trumpet notes in more traditional playing… and then it occurs to me: Have I heard the didgeridoo played traditionally? Surely, Marko has shared recordings of indiginous people playing their instruments.

This reflection comes on the heels of a long overdue “intro” to this intoxicating instrument of native Australians. Aboriginal men knew termite migration patterns just as they knew that of animals, and followed them to eucalyptus forests to harvest raw materials. By tapping the trunk, they identified hollow trees, chopping them down and shaping the exterior to finish the instrument. Therin lies my question: What were/are the harmonics like? They did nothing to manipulate the interior. That was all-natural termite lunch!

Today, non-traditional craftsmen makes didges out of just about anything, from PVC plastic to any type of wood, which is usually split in half, hollowed – with some amazing, specific dimensions and dynamics! – then reattacted. Then there are rockstars like Marko Johnson, who revolutioned the didge world as we know it! Once he invented the didjbox, it caught on like wildfire. People build some incredible things – works of art – around the exact same basic box. Many don’t even know they could email the guy who designed this thing they are likely obsessed with. 🙂 Here: mj@rounddoor.com.

As for the funny moniker, there are varying names for the instrument among the many different tribes of indiginous people. None resemble didgeridoo. That title probably came from colonizers mimicking the sound it made.

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Filed under Aboriginal people, Australia, didgeridoo, didjbox, Marko Johnson, music