Guest post by storyteller and musician Ken Shapley
As a seasoned player, maker and teacher of Didgeridoo with 27 years of experience I have had the pleasure to have made over 30 didgeridoos from a variety of UK trees. We do not have the climate or the termites to readily make naturally hollowed out branches so a trend began in the nineties to make “split didges”. These finely crafted instruments were all manner of shapes and sizes and a modern day instrument in their own right. As a spirit of the forest more than the city I always keep my eye out for these natural wonders but only once before have I found a naturally hollowed out didgeridoo upon these shores. That is until the other day. I’d not made one in many a year and had it in mind to do so. I’m a regular visitor to Roslin Glen so I had a long chat with the King of the Trees there and asked to be gifted a didgeridoo. Couple of weeks later, having studied all morning and most of the afternoon the folklore of Rowan in the reference library I was in a particularly jolly mood, whistling away on my way home down the mound and spied a gate I’d forgotten about leading down to the railway tracks and a bridge into Princes St Gardens. I spotted some huge felled trees and was about to walk on by when an intuition stopped me. Experience told me this was The Tree of Life at work! The trees talk to each other and you just have to keep your wits about you and trust those intuitive flashes when you’re near trees. I went for a wee look and there in the undergrowth saw the hollow opening of a huge log! I hauled it out, looked promising, if a bit large to be practically playable. I poked a stick into the hole and to my utter joy it kept going in! 1 foot 2 feet, 3 feet before it hit a block. It looked like the final foot was semi rotten too…ooooooh what a find, a great beastie of a Didgeridoo…a blowing horn…a dord at the very least!
I jogged home, back with the car, onto my shoulder and boy what a weight!
30 hours of draw knife, augers, hot pokers, spoke shaves and sanders later, on my doorstep and she was nearly playable, save for a huge hole in the side. I tried plugging it with beeswax, a seashell and a crystal…no good, the sound’s too dull. A didge needs full resonance from the wood to really sing out. So I fashioned a piece to fit the hole from a very fragrant fallen pine from Roslin Glen. To get it into place it needed more skilled hands than mine. In fact the instrument has so much character it really deserves to be carved, it’s Ash wood…boy of boy if you want to feel as strong as a Viking, work for a week on Ash, I can well believe the legendary spears of Finn McCool were unbeatable in battle, it’s hard hard hard yet has a tigerous sinewy spring to it. With help from Donald Smith it was possible to turn this into an instrument commissioned for the Tree of Life project and enlist the services of master carver Phil Obermarch who is busy as we speak bringing his magic to the instrument. The fact that it embodies ‘ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find’, especially through the magic of the Yggdrasillian invisible network is wonderful. It’s already inspiring me to embark upon a two year long project to make a World of Tree Folklore Sculpture to celebrate the full richness that Trees give to us and the stories they inspire. It’s first public playing will be on Dec 1st at The Tree of Life event.