A newsletter for the Didjeridu player......January 2003 Volume 9 Issue 1
An Interview with Ed Drury
While attending the Joshua Tree Didgeridoo Festival this past year, I was struck by the incredible role played by David. What I saw was that in addition to giving workshops and performing on stage, David was acting as Emcee, Stage Manager, Tai Chi instructor, vendor and Sound Man. With all of this, his energy was always positive. He never appeared tired, stressed or the least bit disorganized. I was keen to get to know this person, but there was just no time there. So it is with great pleasure to share with you the resulting interview I conduct with David over the past several weeks as I caught up with him between all his various activities. For a man who is so obviously busy, I found David incredibly accessible and a real pleasure to work with. -Ed
[Ed] I have a lot of questions for you. So many, it's hard to know where to start. But I think it might be interesting to start with your involvement at the Joshua Tree Didgeridoo Festival. Last year, you did the work of about five people by my reckoning. But I'd like to ask you first to explain from your perspective, a bit of the history of this gathering and what it means for you personally.
[David] For me the Joshua Tree Didjeridu Festival is like a family gathering or reunion... a way to put faces to the many names I've come to know over the years from my involvement with the online 'Didge Lists' and a great way to meet and make new friends. I also have a healthy ego so it's also a great place for me to strut my stuff.... I love the stage and performing and I also like all the tech stuff that goes behind the scenes.... setting up the stage and lighting and doing the sound from the mixing console. Grahm and Trish from the Didgeridoo Store organize the event and are absolutely wonderful to work with and I adore them both... warm, caring, generous, enthusiastic, helpful, concerned.... It's their energy that makes the event so wonderful.
The festival came about from the vision of a Joshua tree resident, Peter Spoecker, a close and age-old friend that I have known for about 30 years. It was 10 years ago that Peter presented me with my first didge insisting that I had to try this thing out. Peter had been an experimental electronic musician for years and loved odd, multi-timbral voices so it was something that he was pre-wired for. His enthusiasm is what got me started along with many others too numerous to count. Along the way he had the vision to create a gathering for didgeridoo enthusiasts and felt that Joshua tree would make a great location for such a gathering. At about this time he connected with Grahm and Trish who were looking for sources of didgeridoos for their store and they were soon in business together. When he shared his festival idea with them they decided they could use all the help they could get to make it fly so they brought in Mark and Barry from LA Outback to provide additional support. By the time they got up to speed and set dates for the 1st annual festival I was already booked elsewhere and had to miss the first event. Peter made a special effort to re-schedule the second annual event so that I could be sure to participate or perhaps it was Grahm's idea to schedule it for the full moon, for whatever reason, the change worked into my schedule and I am so glad it did. It was like a homecoming. Smiling faces every where, warm hugs, jams in the moonlight, laughter.... a gathering of kindred spirits from all walks of life that created a real feeling of community. And what a great line up of entertainers and workshops... a world-class event in my opinion.
Last years event was the best yet. The move out of town to the Joshua Tree Lake Campground was perfect and the setting and view of the valley below was outstanding. As I drove in on Thursday morning to begin my setup I passed an outrageous sculpture garden in the desert off to the right and I could see the tents nestled in just below the bluffs a mile or two ahead and I knew in that moment that it was going to be an awesome event. Both times I have attended I have been busier than any sane person would want to be but I absolutely loved it... I sort of feel akin to Bilbo and Frodo from the Tolkien books in that I love my simple and quiet life in my comfy little hobbit hole but there is something about working under pressure that brings out the best in me... well, at least sometimes it does. My only regret is that I'm so busy I don't have much opportunity to connect with folks during festival hours so I'm really glad that this year we're opening up the grounds on the Monday prior to the weekend event so now I can have time to be more social with those that arrive early while it's more relaxed and have more opportunities to jam. Way Cool!
I think the event has actually grown larger than Peter ever intended and, preferring a less stressful life, he has left the organizational end of things and enjoys his notoriety of being the reclusive Didge Fest Founding Father while Grahm and Trish, with a wonderful handful of volunteers, now run the entire affair. I'm very pleased that they found my skills and talents useful and I feel honored to have been invited to be a part of the Didge Fest for the last two years.
[Please excuse me for bubbling over and being so long-winded... I just love my job so it's hard not to be enthusiastic.]
[Ed] Could you tell us a little more about 10 years ago when Peter presented you with your first didge? What were you doing musically at that time and how did that experience affect your music at first?
[David] When Peter gave me my first didge I was enjoying a successful career as an environmental musician and flutist. Let's set this up by going back just a bit further. I got my start back in 1983 when I was invited by another long time friend to come into the studio to create a music project together. At the time I was touring as an artist and craftsman that designed jewelry and made different styles of folk flutes including the Native American love flute. It was Ed Van Fleet of Synchestra that got me into the recording business. When I got the call I was staying with friends in Sedona and hanging out in the red rocks, canyons and Indian ruins of the area. Ed's studio was in Phoenix so it was just a three-hour drive down into the city. When I got there we decided to use my two week stay in Arizona's canyon lands as a thematic jumping off point to create the music and the approach of using the environment to inspire my music was established at the onset of my career. To begin with Ed simply created some wind sounds to create an atmosphere I could respond to and I simply improvised in the moment. In my first two recordings I played flute and Ed worked out all the arrangements.
After completing my second recording with Ed as a flutist I began yearning to have a little more control over the arrangements and wanted to play other instruments and work some things out for myself and it was at that time that Peter invited me to use his studio in January of 1986. At first it was going to be a collaboration but I came with so many ideas in my head and was so strongly opinionated that Peter just turned me loose in the studio to do my own thing and that's when I recorded my first 'almost-solo' recording.
Peter, after all had quite of bit of input and work into the project himself and we have always been mutually supportive of each other's artistic endeavors. Our friendship goes all the way back to the early 70's and I always think of him fondly as an older brother.
As the years passed by I would try and stop in at least a couple times a year to see what he was up to because he was always into intriguing art forms as both a visual and a musical artist. It was in '92 or '93 that he introduced me to his latest passion, the didgeridoo. Peter knew that he had finally found the instrument that he was meant for all along. At the time he was making didges from PVC pipe and he gave me one that he had hand painted in a very unique fashion that wasn't at all traditional. I was intrigued with the instrument but it would be a long time before I would become a convert myself as I thought of it more as a novelty item that might be useful at some point but couldn't really see how at the time.
Neither of us knew much about the instrument and there wasn't much didgeridoo music available at the time so we developed our techniques pretty much in the dark to begin with. I remember sitting in Peter's studio after playing for about a year on my own and I could easily keep up with him rhythmically but he was creating some really cool multi-timbral sounds and I just couldn't figure out how he could possibly be making them. When I stopped him and asked him about it he said "Well, when you vocalize into the instrument...." "You can vocalize into the instrument?" I responded in astonishment.... an eye opening moment. However, I was still unsure of being able to use this instrument usefully in any of my music but there was something about the didge that just kept pulling me along.
There were two more events to occur in that year that would be the catalyst to cause a shift in the way I thought about and made music. The first was in the spring of '94 when I was participating at the Whole Earth Festival in Davis, California. I was exhibiting my jewelry, flutes, and CDs in the crafts marketplace when they dragged up a didge player out of the audience and gave him 15 minutes of stage time... It was the first time I had ever heard a didgeridoo played well and the sound literally dragged me out of my booth and to the stage.... I was hooked. Then a month or two later I was in Lake Tahoe exhibiting my work when a bloke from Australia took an interest in my Native American style flutes saying he thought they might sound good with the didgeridoo. I told him I thought he was right and he responded by saying "Hey, I've got my didge out in the car." (You have to imagine a heavy Australian accent here). A few short minutes later we were jamming away at my both and in about 5 or 10 minutes we attracted a crowd of about 100 people who cheered wildly when we finished... OK, so now I've really swallowed the bait "hook, line and sinker" as they say. After we finish playing he hands me his didge to "give it a go" and he's quite surprised that I already have a pretty good handle on generating sounds and rhythms but he notices that I'm not circular breathing so he gives me my first lesson and now there's no stopping me. (Yep... that's right. I played for more than a year and a half before learning how to circular breathe.)
I was still not clear on how I was going to use the didge in my music but in the following winter Peter and I decide to get together in my studio in Northern California to see what we could come up with. Peter stayed for two or three weeks and we ended up recording nearly two albums worth of material in a variety of musical styles. When we were finished we agree to both have access to the material for our own separate projects and I ended up using the material that had a Native American feel to act as a seed to create my first Didge recording, "On Wings of Eagles" which I released in 1995 about 2 1/2 years after I first picked up the instrument. In this recording I'm still very much a flutist and I'm using the didge primarily as an atmospheric component. For me it represented the melding of the elements of heaven and earth... the soaring lyrical flute and the primal and rhythmic didgeridoo. This was my 12th release and, while I had experimented with multi-cultural elements before, this was the first time I had focused on tribal and indigenous musical forms, which proved to be a real pivotal point in my career.
Up to this point I still had not heard any other didge recordings but that changed in the fall of '95 when a friend introduced me to "Winds of Warning" by Adam Plack with Johnny Whiteant Soams, which is one of my favorite recordings to this day. When I got together with Peter again he shared several other recordings that he had found by Charley McMahon, Alan Dargin, Andrew Langford, Alistair Black and a couple others so now we have all kinds of input. It's at about this time that I experience the desire to find out more about the instrument and it's origins and begin to search the internet and libraries for information and since I was a instrument maker by profession I began experimenting with didgeridoo designs of my own and I find myself heading down a new yet ancient path.
[Ed] At some point you came up with the "Walkabout" didjeridu. I remember seeing one at a workshop I gave in Las Vegas, must have been around 1995 or 1996. Can you talk about how you developed that design maybe some of the evolutions of your designs for didjeridus?
[David] My first Didge was just a piece of 1 1/4 inch PVC pipe that was nicely painted by Peter. When I met the Australian bloke who taught me circular breathing I noticed that his didge had a nicely shaped oval mouthpiece that was waxless. It felt pretty darn good so when I got home I started experimenting with the mouthpiece on my didge. I also noticed that his didge had a richer tone than mine did and that it had a bit of a flared bell. As I tried to work out some pieces of music using didge and the Native American flute it soon became obvious that I was going to need didgeridoos in different keys than the one I had and not knowing where to get one I decided to make a few for myself. They were all straight bores to begin with and I used epoxy putty to create an oval inside the round shape of the pipe. When visiting Peter I found him baking some plastic didges in his oven so that he could bend them so armed with the information that you could manipulate plastic by heating it I had a new technique that would help me eventually create the "Walkabout" didge.
Remembering that the belled didge seemed to have a richer sound I decided I would create a tapered bell by forcing heated pipe over a shape that I had created by turning a limb from a pruned plum tree on my lathe. Then because of my arts background I decided to put in a couple of gentle "S" curves to make the whole thing a bit more esthetic and organic looking. I found that putting an oval mouthpiece together with the bell and curves greatly improved the sound I was getting from my instruments and the final touch was developing my trademark airbrush painting style that took me two years to perfect before I was truly happy with it. At this point I was still using 1 1/4 inch PVC stock to make my instruments and they were very light and slender so that they made pretty decent walking sticks and that's why I decided to name them "Walkabout Didjeridoos". The next step in the evolution was an increase in size from 1 1/4 inch to 1 1/2 inch base stock, a larger bell, and a greatly improved oval mouthpiece which I spend more time on than any other facet of construction. This improved model became my flagship instrument for many years, which I called the "Walkabout Performance" didjeridoo.
While not the real thing, as far as traditional instruments are concerned, I was still pretty proud of my didges and they were a lot better playing and looking than most of the imports I was seeing at the time. Even though I now appreciate a finely crafted wood stick I still use my performance models on stage and in recording because of their light weight, ease of play and they have a nice crispness that cuts through a mix when orchestrating more complex music. Now that I'm performing more and cutting way back on my art festivals, I'm making a lot fewer didges and I'm beginning to move away from a production style didge and I'm working on more "one of a kind" instruments. I will still make any style didge on order but after making well over 2,000 didges I'm feeling like retiring my production line and focusing on custom work.
It was the "Didge List" that started educating me about traditional instruments and styles of playing and led me to begin using more traditional styles of didge making and I started working with imported raw sticks from Australia, many of which Peter supplied me with. Since I often toured Arizona doing craft festivals it was only a matter of time before I met Alan Shockley and Rob Thomas who introduced me to agave didjeridoos. It was "Didge List" member, Bill Hudson who took me out agave collecting outside of Phoenix for the first time and after completing my first few sticks I was an 'Agave Convert'. Because yucca is native to Southern California and a lot closer to me than Arizona, I have now switched my focus to using yucca for most of my current instruments. I love yucca because it has the same basic shape as agave but it's much lighter making it better for my stage work and easier to lug around (I can put 4 or 5 on my back and it still feels lighter than one Euc.). Because they tend to be so light and thin I spent considerable time developing a few techniques that make them strong enough to handle life on the road, as I tend to be pretty hard on things. Personally, I like the patterning of the outer skin on yucca didges better than agave so the last couple of batches that I've done have little or no painting on them which is unusual for me.
Going out to the DidgeFest this year and seeing all the finely crafted French bread didges was really inspiring and I'm once again looking forward to a little more experimentation and evolution in my work but I think that my days as a didgeridoo craftsman are winding down and may soon become a thing of the past. I've certainly been blessed to have work that I love to do but my real passion is creating and performing music. My early music career was based on producing recorded music but now it's switching over to performing music and I seem to have that dysfunctional personality flaw that craves attention and recognition so I'm liking the performance thing a whole lot and I find that I'm filled with more enthusiasm now than ever.
[Ed] You have worn a few different hats for the Didjeridu list as well.You are compiling tracks submitted by players of the Wandering Didj, a project started so long ago by Guan Lim. How's that going? Where can these be heard and how do you think that will eventually, pardon the pun, play out? Will it eventually result in a physical CD? Has it been a fun thing, learning thing, or perhaps just one more thing?
[David] I am really fond of the Wandering Didj Project and I really delighted in tracking it's journey even though I was often frustrated by how slowly the didge was moving. We managed to track the WD through four years of its journey but unfortunately it went missing several months ago when the person that last had it dropped out of site... in one way its still making its journey but it's gone underground.
I was a bit disappointed by how few WD recordings were being made and I haven't received a submission in a couple of years. As I collected the recordings and posted them to a page on my web site, Brandi Chase/Graves downloaded them to put up on the official Wandering Didge site at... www.brandichase.com/didjeridu/wander.htm . The WD managed to make it into the hands of 30 official participants on the list and likely hundreds more that they shared them with but we only have 10 recordings available on the web site mentioned above. Of course I really shouldn't be all that surprised because even though I recorded plenty of WD material myself I never actually chose a track to post on the site so I'm just as guilty as everyone else that didn't send something in. Of equal interest is the archive of posts to "The Didge List" concerning the WD's travels and comments made by the participants, I made up for not submitting a recording in this section and wrote pages on the time the WD spent with me. For now I imagine that the WD recordings will simply remain an online MP3 offering but if it ever re-surfaces and we get more submissions there is always a possibility that a Wandering Didge CD could become available in the future.
Currently there is a new movement growing that is being referred to as the "Wandering Didge II" (WD II) project which involves a number of American didge makers that have volunteered to donate several didges to a "new" wandering didj project to help carry on the spirit of the original missing WD. What is happening is that several didges are going to begin making the rounds to those that sign up to participate and we're going to start them off from different locations so that a greater number of people can participate in a shorter period of time. Didges are schedule to begin their journey in the east, west and central US and I plan on starting one off in Europe next month. I am really excited about creating a web of Wandering Didges sponsored by a web-based didjeridu group... seems very appropriate to me. For me the project is more about community and sharing than anything else and the generosity of those supporting the new wave is very inspiring.
I haven't announced it yet but I'm planning on volunteering to host a website for our second project that will track all the WD's and offer access to all the recordings that we compile.
[Ed] Another project of the Mills list has been the Didjeridu Planet series. Starting with DP02, you have been the producer of two (so far) volumes of Didjeridu Planet. I wonder if you could give a bit of the history of this project from your perspective and what you expect we might see in the future?
[David] This is another project very close to my heart. I love anything to do with music and music production so although it tends to be a long and arduous process I embrace it with joy and enthusiasm. The project began with the "Mills Didjeridu List" wanting to create a compilation CD so that they could hear what other members were doing musically with the didjeridu.
Karl Kalbaugh acted as the producer for the first volume and I joined the list just as they were wrapping up the project so I missed the opportunity to participate. From what Karl has said on "The List", it was a two-year project that required a lot of sweat and tears but for the most part he loved every moment of it. The CD was primarily intended for use by list members and friends only and was not made available commercially so it was limited to a small pressing and has since gone out of print. When Karl abdicated his leadership role during the ensuing discussion about beginning a second volume I stepped up to the plate with a proposal to make it commercially available and reduce the costs of the CD to list members and contributors while creating a Didjeridu Planet fund that would help finance future projects. The list liked the proposal and away we went.
DP02 was also a 2-year project but as we all became more experienced players and better at recording our tracks I think that the overall quality improved a bit.
At the time, the woman that was promoting my personal CD releases took an interest in the project and insisted on including in our promotions for my indie music label, Timeless Productions. We sent out tons of demo copies and got some great review and we even made it as a finalist for "Best World Music CD of the Year" by Crossroads Magazine that specializes in covering the world folk music scene. There is detailed information and audio files posted on the Didjeridu Planet 2 website at... http://home.mindspring.com/~mcdave1/dp2linn.html .
Sales however never really took off so it has remained primarily a grassroots project marketed by the contributors and I spent more in promotion than I'm likely to ever recover. Fortunately I still managed to put enough aside in the Didjeridu Planet account to make up for the shortfall on pre-release sales on Didjeridu Planet 3.
Even though people were excited about how well the first two projects came out and expressed great enthusiasm about proceeding with volume three it took over 2 years just to get enough submissions to start the selection process and then suddenly in the last couple of months when I announced that I had enough material to begin selecting tracks I was hit by deluge of submissions and we ended up with over 100 tracks submitted by close to 50 didge players.
Production stalled when I was hit with a family crisis when my Dad went into the hospital with in-operable congestive heart failure. Considering the seriousness of his condition he continues to do well and has returned home but he requires constant attention so he keeps us busy. It's been a bumpy road over the last 6 months but with a little help from John Madill, I've finally finished post-production and graphic layout and the project has been sent out for duplication. I was hoping for a January release but it looks like it will be the end of February. I think that this volume is the best yet and feedback from evaluation copies that I made available at the Joshua Tree Didge Fest have backed that claim up. Information on tracks and artists selected for DP03 can be found at the Didjeridu Planet 3 web page at... www.timelessproductions.com/music/catalog/dp03 .
Eventually, detailed track description and instrumentation, audio clips, artist bios, photos and website links, will be included. There is a really good synopsis of what the project is all about with guidelines on submitting material for Didjeridu Planet 4 on the Didjeridu Planet Submission Page at www.timelessproductions.com/submissions
Even though I've taken on the role of producer and release the projects through my very small indie label I still view this as a Didge List project and it's completely in their hands whether I continue on as producer and distributor on future projects. On DP04 I hope to revive some of the community spirit of the project by opening up some of the track selection to a group vote by list members. This will also help spare me of some mental anguish because I can usually pick out the first 20 tracks quite easily but it's choosing the last 10 that drives me crazy. This year I used a rubric that gave submissions 4 points in 4 categories with two extra bonus points also available... one for being a didge list member and one for being a first time participant in the project. Even still, I had to split hairs to pick out the last half dozen tracks. I believe that 22 tracks on DP03 are from new people not heard on the first two volumes and I think that it's great to hear all these new musical artists.
The past 3 DP03 projects have been dominated by American players but I'm hoping to open it up more to the international community by sending review copies to the Didgeridoo Magazine that is published in Germany with an invite for the European and worldwide didge community to participate. After all, the project is called... Didjeridu Planet.
[Ed] Can you tell us a little about Timeless Productions? How many CD titles are in its catalog? Where do you record now? What projects are currently in the works?
[David] I started Timeless Productions in 1986 after the completion of my first solo release "Dance of the Dolphin" and my company name came from my first release with Synchestra that was called "Timeless Flight". Our current catalog includes 12 of my titles plus DP02 and DP03. I also have three out of print releases and one unreleased guided relaxation project. From 1986 until 1996 the niche market in environmental music flourished and we sold over 250,000 copies of my recordings.
With the success of my first three recordings I was able to begin purchasing my own recording equipment, which I operated in a back bedroom, and in 1989 I began the building of my studio. I put in about 30% of the manual labor myself and, with the help of my neighbors, we built a 1600 square foot facility behind our house on a 10-acre parcel nestled in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just east of Sacramento. We have 600 square feet upstairs that serves as office, shipping department and my wife's sowing center where she makes all the carry bags for my flutes and didges. Downstairs is the control room, recording room, full bath, and a multi-purpose room that I can use for recording larger groups but also currently houses my jewelry workshop and sometime serves as a guest bedroom.
Business was awesome for the first 6 years but then the marketplace began changing in '92 and when K-mart and Target featured listening stations filled with environmental titles for $9.99 and then later at $6.99, they changed the market for my work dramatically. Currently I only sell perhaps 10% of what I used to at our peak. From about 1988 to 1992 I was able to focus solely on my music and I stopped making jewelry and musical instruments. When the market began to slow down I resumed my craftwork once again to pick up the slack.
The didjeridu came to me at a transitional period and by the time I was playing well enough to feel comfortable recording I began to find a market place for the didges I was making for myself and as I improved their design they began selling better and better. It's actually been didge sales that have supported my music career and recording label for the last few years and without the didge I may have been out of business years ago. Currently, I'm beginning to experience an new wave of success as a performer and I also moonlight as an arts education coordinator for our local school district and work at the state level as a member of the California Arts Assessment Network. As we speak I am taking a break from writing 4 grants to hopefully bring in much needed funds to aid in teacher trainings and professional development in music, dance, theatre, and visual arts for our local school teachers. With money coming in from all these other activities, I've been able to maintain our catalog of recordings but sales are extremely slow and the release of new projects has been slowed down as well.
Music is still my main passion and I am grateful that I have been able to continue with my recording and performing. Our last few releases, including DP02, were met with rave reviews so I'm hopeful that my recording career will soon be revived. I've been very grateful that the Didge List has allowed me to produce the last two Didjeridu Planet projects and I'm looking forward to DP04 if I still have their blessings. My own projects include a new recording with "Pangaea Percussion and Winds" (www.pangaeapercussion.com) but since I live 2 1/2 hours away from the rest of the band it's slow progress. On the home front I'm working on a dance music project that will be a fusion of techno dance beats with didge and other world instruments. Because the music is so driving it's perfect music to keep you energized while on long late-night car trips like the one I did starting out at midnight to drive 10 hours to the JT DidgeFest in October. I listened to the ruff mixes of the first seven songs nearly the entire trip without getting tired of it so I've tentatively decided to call the project "Drive".
[Ed] I was, as I've heard from more than a few others, quite moved by the sound and vibe of Pangaea Percussion and Winds. Can you provide a bit of historical context and biography to what we heard?
[David] I first saw Pangaea Percussion in Reno when I was touring doing arts and craft festivals... maybe three or four years ago (these days I just don't seem to count anymore). A friend dragged me to see them because a mutual friend was a member of the band. I was blown away and found it one of the most enjoyable concerts I had been to in quite some time. I also felt a real affinity to what they were doing and immediately started scheming for a way to get into the band. At the time they had very little melodic content in their music and there were endless ways that I could fit what I was doing into their rhythmic format. When they had a personnel shake up and lost one of their members a year later I wasted no time in making myself available by first offering to record their next CD and then offering to play on the recording and when they heard the results I was asked to join the band and we became Pangaea Percussion and Winds... one guess as to who the big bag of wind is.
When I joined them they had about half of the material for the new CD already composed and I simply found ways to fit in. It was a match made in heaven because we all were into using nature as the inspiration for our music. We call ourselves a world fusion band because we blend the instruments of various indigenous cultures from all around the globe to create music that celebrates our amazing cultural diversity while paying tribute to the natural beauty of our mother earth. When we perform you can find as many as one hundred world instruments on stage and each member will often play several instruments during a single song.
While we were recording the first part of our new CD we were asked to compose music for the Wing and a Prayer Dance Company for a dance project about the life and times of Kokopelli, the Native American flute player that is depicted in rock paintings all over the southwest of the United States. The project grew from the vision of a Native American storyteller, John LaFontaine, and in his vision he was guided to present his story in a more universal theme than simply telling a Native American tale. For that reason he approached a modern dance troupe and a world fusion band to help present the story.
The dance was choreographed by 4 well-known dance instructors from different locations in the U.S. and each created one act.... Kokopelli's Childhood,.. his Vision Quest,.. the Eagles Challenge,.. and his Transformation into the spirit world. We in turn worked with each choreographer and John LaFontaine to create the mood and tempo for each piece. As the work progressed we additionally brought in a Native American children's dance troupe and a tribal Elder to help create the spiritual context and village community to open the dance recital with.
We ended up writing an full hour of music and performed 6 nights with the dance troupe for several thousand people and we all found it one of the most rewarding musical experiences of our lives. We then paired down the music to create the 20-minute Kokopelli Suite at the end of the "Everything Spins" CD that we released in the summer of 2001.
For the JT DidgeFest we also previewed a few new pieces that will be on a new CD that will tentatively be titled "Dark River". Because I live so far from the rest of the band (Reno is a 2 1/2 hour drive each way), the recording process moves rather slowly so it's likely to be a year before it will be released.
[Ed] I can sense that you log quite a few miles. But would you tell us a bit about home and hearth? What do you like to do with all that "spare" time you have? :-)
[David] Ha! Spare time.... good one Ed. Because I live in such a beautiful location out in the forest I actually really like hanging out and doing nothing in particular but these days it seems like it's just go, go, go.... I just turned 52 yesterday (Feb 5th) and I think that for the last couple of years I was in a panic because I was just beginning to realize how short life is. I have so much more I want to do that I just can't seem to cram enough into the day. Looking at it now I can see that I definitely need to start setting some priorities and I'm going to have to let go of a few things if I want to remain sane. Living in the country is definitely a lifesaver because it allows me to pause each day and be in awe of the beauty around me and to be thankful for the wonderful life that I have. And family.... boy I am blessed in spades on that one, or should I say in hearts. A loving supportive woman that has been with me for over 35 years that has allowed me to follow my dreams even though the path has been rocky and uncertain at times and two sons that would make any man's chest swell with pride.
One of the things that I'm looking forward to on the home front is being able to get back into gardening once again and to feel my bare feet digging into the loose soil. I'm planning on building several permanent labyrinths including a raised-earth garden labyrinth and I dream of having a retreat facility on our 20 acres where people will start coming to me instead of me running all over the countryside. Maybe even a little mini-didgefest in a year or two. Yeah that's the ticket... the icing on the cake. A recording studio bed and breakfast offering gourmet meals, relaxing massage (I'm a certified massage therapist), tai chi instruction, and labyrinth walks to create a loving and supportive atmosphere where an artist can be at their creative best. Then combine that with just a touch of touring as a performer to keep my ego happy... Sweet... I'm going to have to hold on to that dream and bring a little more clarity to the vision so that I can make it a reality. Since I've been self-employed all my life and have no retirement pension to look forward to and virtually no savings I view this dream as my ideal retirement plan.
Next to family and my work as a musician I think that I find my greatest joy in being immersed in nature and in being of service to my fellow man, especially if it deals with spiritual well being. I am so thankful and happy that I can say that I'm experiencing all these things in my life and except for some low-self esteem issues and the doubt and fear I experience from time to time about the future I'd say I'm as close to experiencing heaven on earth as anyone can.
For me, nature is the great healer and endless source of inspiration and that's why my music has almost always been inspired by my interactions with the earth... It's my therapy... my time for healing. It also represents my time for play, joy and celebration and it's the element of water that I'm especially fond of.... any excuse to get wet pleases me to no end and I think that I am an otter at heart. Diving, swimming, splashing, surfing, skiing, kayaking, sailing, cold, warm, frozen.... water in any form gives me great pleasure. In one way I'm glad that I've been so busy this winter up to this point because there's been no rain or snow to speak of for over a month. Now that I've got my grant writing, touring and DP03 production out of the way I'm praying for some snow so that I can do a little boarding and I'm looking forward to some good powder days. Yeah... definitely an otter.
[Ed] Saturday morning at Joshua Tree, I was quite surprised to find a labyrinth in the middle of the desert. What a treat it was to walk one again and I so want to thank you for creating that. How did you discover this and was it challenging to create one with rope on the desert floor? I thought that was brilliant by the way.
[David] Thanks Ed, the JT labyrinth was my first public labyrinth project and I'm happy to know that it was appreciated and enjoyed.
My first experience with a labyrinth, other than my life itself, was when visiting Grace Cathedral in San Francisco while acting as a parent advisor during my son's 6th Grade Camp. Since we live out in the boonies our school district sends our kids to the city for a week long camp and culture outing. At the Cathedral they have a replica of the labyrinth that was built into the Chartes Cathedral in France a few centuries ago and I had a few moments to walk the labyrinth after we finished our tour of the facility. I had put that experience out of my mind for several years until I was invited to participate as a performer, workshop leader and an all around gofer for the Labyrinth Society's annual conference. I didn't know anything about labyrinths at the time and couldn't quite understand why the event organizer wanted me to be such an integral part of the conference but she insisted that I be there and I was the first person she contacted to participate. To make a long story short it was an extraordinary event where I worked my fanny off but I felt that I received much more than I gave and I learned a heck of a lot about labyrinths.
The JT DidgeFest happened just 4 weeks later so I was really pumped to build my first public labyrinth and I chose a 7 circuit classic design for it's simplicity and ease of layout. This design is the oldest known labyrinth form dating back several thousand years with the oldest examples being found on the Island of Crete. Interestingly enough there are Native American petroglyphs and basket weavings of the same design found in our own country so it seems to be a universal symbol as well. There were several labyrinths built at the conference, most of which were painted onto the grass lawn areas surrounding the conference halls or on huge canvases spread out inside the conference hall.
There was one however that was laid out in ropes that were staked to the lawn and it seemed like a very practical approach to use for the DidgeFest. As it turned out the owners of the festival site had a few Hundred feet of 2 inch mooring rope that they had picked up at a marine salvage yard that they were using in their landscaping and they gave us permission to use it. I fed the huge coil into my trailer and drove it over to the labyrinth site where two of us spooled it back out to create the labyrinth. From start to finish it only took a couple hours to design and layout the labyrinth and the rope was heavy enough to stay in position on its own and I only had to stake the ends. There wasn't quite enough to finish the entire labyrinth but Grahm is a rock climber and he brought along some climbing rope that we were able to use to complete the last two circuits. Considering the times we are in I felt it appropriate to ask participants to hold thoughts of peace in their hearts as they walked the labyrinth. You can learn more about labyrinths at www.labyrinthsociety.com
[Ed] I understand that you are active in Community Radio. That's quite interesting to me and I'm sure others would like to hear about the things you do in that area. How did you get involved with Community Radio and in what capacities have you served?
[David] The idea to apply for a FCC permit to build and license a Low Power FM station came from the president of the American River Folk Society who had experience with community radio from another area where he had been a broadcaster and board member. When he started throwing around the idea, a group us began to meet regularly to see how we might accomplish the task. A Broadcast Committee was then officially formed which my wife and I both became part of. With a core group of 20 community members and 8 months of hard work and fund raising we were finally able to get on air on November 23, 2002 on about 1/3 of our initial estimated budget. Currently I am on the Governing Board, the programming committee and the finance committee.
I'm also the resident tech advisor, website manager and I have a 3 hour show on Thursday nights called New Horizons. My most important job recently however was to unclog the toilet so you can see that I am a man of many talents. To get the entire story you can go to
[Ed] How did you come to be an Educational Consultant and what are some of the challenges you face in that role?
[David] My work as an arts education consultant grew out of my wife's active local community life. As our kids grew up I was often invited in to perform for the schools and I found school children to be a delightful audience. As I performed locally I became well liked in the local school community and I was asked to serve on the school districts Visual and Performing Arts committee (VAPA) to help develop their arts program. Because I toured so much Nina (nine-ah) sat in at most of the meetings in my place and became involved in writing the schools arts education standards. Shortly after, the school hired a grant writer to apply for some arts grants and when they were awarded to our school we were asked to come in to interview for the position of coordinating the grant program. Since then we have worked as a team with Nina providing the organizational skills while I handle presentations and writing of reports and additional grants. I have been right in the midst of writing 4 grant proposals and putting in 12 and 16 hour days as we have conducted this interview so that's the main reason it's taken so long for me to correspond.
I think that my greatest challenge in this new role is that I had to learn a whole new language that the education community spoke and I had to be capable of reading between the lines. In addition to our new district and state standards there are national standards as well. All of the new arts standards are written at a very high level making the coursework as challenging as any other curriculum. What has been a revelation is that all the research is now proving what we all felt about the arts all along.
Study after study shows how high quality arts experiences in the schools leads to higher academic achievement, a stronger sense of personal achievement and self worth, improved social skills and higher test scores. We consider the Arts as the 4th "R" in education and we treat it as a core subject.
[Ed] In addition to serving as an Arts Consultant for your local and state School systems, how have you been involved in the schools themselves?
[David] My work in the schools has been at two levels... one as a liaison between the teachers and state agencies that provide professional development for the teachers so that they have more experience and comfort in teaching the arts and the other is as a performer and educator. This second role happens outside of our grant work and it is here where I make direct contact with the kids. My assembly program is highly rated because my training with standards based curriculum allows me to design a program that addresses the standards content areas of artistic perception, creative expression, historical and cultural significance, aesthetic valuing and connections and uses in the real world. In this way I've got all the bases covered... a program that the administrators can appreciate on paper and a presentation that the kids love and what a blast for me!... School kids are an absolutely wonderful audience to play for and it's turned out to be one of my favorite things to do.