It’s about time! Learn to play the didgeridoo in Greenpoint

It’s about time! Learn to play the didgeridoo in Greenpoint
Didge binge: AJ Block of the Didge Project finds spiritual fulfillment in playing the ancient Aboriginal instrument, and even took up yoga and meditation after his didgeridoo-induced enlightenment.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

How do you didgeridoo?

A pair of musicians will answer that very question when they begin teaching a new three-month course on the ancient Australian Aboriginal wind instrument in Greenpoint later this month. And they won’t just be schooling their pupils on how to play — they also hope to blow some minds, said one of the educators.

“The didgeridoo kind of opened the spiritual dimension up for me,” said AJ Block, who will instruct “The ABCs of Didgeridoo” at Green Street spiritual space the Sacred Arts Research Foundation with fellow enthusiast Tyler Sussman starting Oct. 20.

Block and Sussman were both jazz musicians when they met as college students in California — Sussman played the saxophone, while Block had been a decade-long devotee of the trombone with some guitar and piano on the side.

But when a mutual friend introduced them to the wonders of the didgeridoo — the English name for the long, hollow wooden pipes traditionally played by Aboriginal peoples in northern Australia — they were so captivated by the instrument’s meditative drone that they felt the need to share it with others.

In 2008, the pair began offering three-month and six-month courses on how to play that come with a free didgeridoo — either made in-house or shipped from a professional craftsman in California — which they dubbed the Didge Project.

Block says he hasn’t picked up a trombone since.

“I put it down to dedicate more time to the didgeridoo,” he said.

Since his didgeridoo-induced spiritual awakening, Block has also taken up meditation and yoga — which he says are enhanced by the instrument’s soothing sound and the breathing exercises required to master it.

One graduate of the project’s six-month program swears by the instrument as an ancient cure for the modern malaise.

“We’re totally neglecting this ancestry of wisdom and knowledge that’s come from thousands and thousands of years of evolution of our species,” said Kevin Ciccotto, bassist of Queens “funky punk jungle” band EarthWise, who discovered the instrument when a didgeridoo-er showed up at a meditation workshop he was attending. “We’re all about our iPhones and our electric guitars and our synthesized instruments.”

Other converts say it cures more traditional ailments — one Didge Project alumnus claims taking up the instrument almost immediately relieved his sleep apnea by strengthening his throat muscles and helping him chill out.

“Within several weeks, I was just sleeping better,” said Paul Auerbach, who signed up to the class at a doctor’s recommendation and has now been playing the didgeridoo for two and a half years. “It reached a point very quickly, within a few months, where I was no longer sleep-deprived.”

Block and Sussman swear they did not snatch the ancient pipe from its indigenous roots and bring it to the hipster nabe willy-nilly — they consulted Aboriginal elders who educated them about the instrument’s history and try to avoid appropriating the tradition while still remaining respectful of its roots, Block said.

“I don’t play in the traditional way of the Aboriginal people, but I play in a way that is to me very connected to the spiritual realm of things,” said Block.

The ABCs of Didgeridoo at the Sacred Arts Research Foundation [107 Green St. G55 between Franklin Street and Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, (347) 871–3866, www.didgeproject.com]. Tuesdays from Oct. 20–Dec. 15 at 7 pm. Register for prices.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Forever didge: AJ Block used to play the trombone, but when he discovered the mystical powers of the didgeridoo, he threw his once-beloved brass instrument to the wayside.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

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