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December  15th, 2009

Dr. Hal and Concord Chamber Orchestra play Sean O'Boyle's Concerto for Didgeridoo and Orchestra

On Saturday, December 19th, I will be performing the U.S. premier of Australian composer Sean O'Boyle's Concerto for Didgeridoo and Orchestra with the Concord Chamber Orchestra at the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee WI. 

The concerto was written in 2002 and first performed by the phenomenal Aboriginal didgeridoo artist William Barton.  As you probably know it wouldn't take too many fingers on one hand to count the number of orchestral concertos written for digeridoo 

One of the challenges performing a didgeridoo concerto is to find a didgeridoo player who also happens to be a musician and one who has some knowledge of ensemble performance.  That narrows the selection down quite a bit. Unlike what I have been used to as a trumpet player...I didn't even have to audition to get the part.  I simply said "sure I'll do it." 

I  listened to William Barton's performance and was intimated but I had already accepted the challenge   I thought...here's my excuse to really devote some time to this strange instrument. Still I was fearful partially because I knew I would have to live with that music cycling around in my head for a long time.  Do I really want it there?  Hmmmmm.  Making the matter much more complex is the issue of knowing what the part is supposed to sound like and exactly how it interacts with the orchestra.  I discovered that the didj part simply hasn't been written out.  It is totally ad lib.   I have overcome that problem by listening to the concerto bar by bar and notating as best I could the sounds that William Barton makes on the recording. I'm sort of inventing a didjeridoo notation system on the fly.  That will allow me and perhaps someone else to perform it for others. 

Distance or other commitments during this busy time of year will make it difficult for many to attend but I did want to connect with you and share a little of the excitement of what I'm up to.  If you have friends who live in the Milwaukee area let them know about this concert.  I'm sure they won't be disappointed and if you decide to come ... the concert starts at 8 pm. Tickets may be purchased either at the door or www.concordorchestra.org .  The composer will be attending.  

Wishing you a joyous holiday and a healthy happy new year.

July 3, 2008

Why Native American Flute for your classroom - Cultural Reasons

© 2008 Hal Kacanek Ph.D.


I've always associated the word "haunting" with ghostly but I've seen it used frequently to describe the sound of the Native American flute. So frequently in fact that I began to wonder if my understanding of the word was correct? Why do so many writers choose "the haunting sound of the Native American flute" to describe the sound it produces.

Well various writing sources on the web reveal that the word haunting has many nuances. As an adjective it can be associated with the spiritual and it means not easily forgotten. Considered as a noun an "old haunt" might be a place or a friend that one has gotten to know, feel comfortable with and is visited often. Ah, now I'm beginning to feel a bit more comfortable with this word that has been haunting me for so long.

The flute sound is clearly a feelingful sound. It is a sound that conveys care, sadness, loneliness, a sense of longing, heartfelt emotion, a sense of the natural world, wisdom, the human spirit. It competes for our attention. It conveys a sense of culture. Dramatic visual messages about first nation people are often framed by the sound of the Native American flute. What a wonderful, haunting sound to associate with an ideal of first nations people.

Musical instruments have specific functions in most cultures. A conch shell played by a Maori figures prominently into a welcoming ceremony, the didgeridoo becomes part of the telling of a dreamtime story, the bugle/trumpet conveys specific signals to the military, a pipe organ prepares the spirit befor, during and after a church service.

Most of the evidence suggests that the Native American flute was a tool that helped to communicate human feeling. Those feelings we know from creation stories are those closest to the heart and beyond those that words can communicate. This is the language of the heart. It is the language of pure sound.

The Indian flute was traditionally played by men for women. But as time passes on, traditions and cultural mores associated with gender become more inclusive. Kokopelli not withstanding, the Native American flute's association with love and courtship is rather well known. It is documented in several flute creation stories.

The Love Flute by Paul Goble is a retelling of one those creation stories. It describe a young man who learns to speak his heart by playing the flute for the one he loves. Anyone who reads this story will discover that Paul Goble's engaging story-telling talents are equaled by his skill as a graphic artist. His book includes exceptional illustrations of native flutes that give a sense of the diversity of flute building styles among many American Indian communities. HIs illustrations suggest that the flute player not only participates in producing the sounds but he is also involved in creating a look for the flute that reflects the maker, the player and the culture. Thus through music and art, the flute begins to take on the spirit of the performer.

Children are not born speaking but they do make sound. Fortunately their caretakers learn to interpret those sounds as a kind of vocabulary of needs and responses. Children continue to expand their sound making capacities by combining sounds into words. Just as they have developed a workable vocabulary in 2nd or 3rd grade, there seems to be an expectation that it is not just what they say but how they say what they say that becomes increasingly more important.  So when young people reach the stage where their vocabulary is sufficient to express their immediate needs, they must once again draw upon pure sound to convey their passion for the message they are trying to convey. All this becomes pretty complex when peer influence comes into the mix.

Adolescents is an awkward time. Feelings are all over the place. How to communicate is confusing. Peer pressure is everything. Music however seems to tower over all the others as a dominant influence. It is significant that Native Americans recognized these difficulties and embedded their wisdom in a strong tradition that centers on music’s ability to communicate feeling. More specifically they created a time and a place for the "haunting" sounds of the Native American flute.

Music educators throughout North America have an opportunity to enrich their students by including the study of Native American flute, either along with or as an option to playing the recorder. There are pioneering opportunities available to develop materials that are cross curricular, integrative, exceptionally educational and highly motivational. 

I believe that once the ball gets rolling, we will all wonder why it has taken so long for us to get there and why we haven't been doing it all along. 

June 2, 2008

Native American Flute curriculum resources

I neglected to add a few interesting sources for those who are investigating the use of Native American Flutes in the classroom. Using the Native American Flute in a Beginning Instrumental Classroom, Michael Winslow and Hayley Winslow, Music Educators Journal, Vol. 92, No. 3 (Jan., 2006), pp. 46-49. I'm happy to say that the Winslows currently use my flutes in their classroom and their decision to use them came after they published the article. 

Richard Dubé (pronounced Du-bay), a middle/high school teacher in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  His recent masters thesis is on incorporating Native American flutes into music classes with significant aboriginal populations. He has a company called Northern Spirit Flutes where he has been fabricating and having his students make their own flutes from PVC pipe. He conducts workshops in flute building, world drumming, Orff techniques etc.  He is driven to use music with at risk students to help "light that fire." His thesis Songs of the Spirit Attending to Aboriginal Students' Emotional and Spiritual Needs Through a Native American Flute Curriculum. Published by the University of Saskatchewan Library Electronic Theses & Dissertations, 2007. Richard will be appearing as one of the faculty at the World Music Drumming Workshop in Oconomowoc, WI June 22-27.

The International Native American Flute Association is key to a large body of knowledge. I'm not sure it is curriculum per sey, but still you will find a lot of people are members who are interested in promoting their mission which is to foster the preservation, appreciation, and advancement of the Native American flute.

I'm sure there are more sources for developing school music curriculum using Native American flutes out there...so if you know more....let me know and I will develop a page listing them. 

University Lake School

Congratulations to all the 6th graders who did such good work developing instruments of all sorts on their making music and poetry project.  And thanks for inviting me to kick it off. Your invitation to come back and see some of the results was greatly appreciated.

Your Responses

Nature abhors a vacuum and as one of natures creations I would like to ask that if you would like to repsond to comments I make in the Didjeridoodle, please do and I will publish them (selectively, of course)...my most recent comment I received just yesterday was

I think your article is great Dr. Hal. There was a class I had taken first year at XXXX called "foundations of music education" and the "good old" standards were something that we talked about a lot. I am glad that you pointed out that once we standardize our art we are in trouble." It is important that we be creative about our future teaching...we should always think why we are teaching what we are teaching my summary).

"And the more I learn about Native American culture, the more I want to bring it into the classroom when I get out into schools. I feel like in lots of schools music has become "notes and rhythms" instead of a creative art. And creative art, especially with music, can open up a wonderful emotional aspect to life."

May 30, 2008

The Gazimba® Plans version 1.1.08 EXIST

This is a GAZIMBA... Many of you saw the Gazimba® for the first time at the 2008 MENC Biennial Convention. Do you know of any instrument that is more interactive and motivating?  There are enormous opportunities here to teach pure improvisation.  If you enjoy unexplored territory and exciting possibilities, get in on the first floor in helping to develop this instrument.  Build one, start exploring and share your findings here.. I’m sorry it wasn't at the MENC convention on Saturday the 12th. I was using it while presenting a program in Chicago. Others of you who have seen me perform on the Gazimba® with students from your school know this instrument has great potential.  I am happy to say the plans finally exist as a real product and now you can build one yourself at a fraction of the cost of purchasing one from me..

How easy is it to make one of these things?  Well, I just hung a new storm door. Following those instructions were especially painful.  My Gazimba® instructions are much easier..guaranteed. You might say I was inspired to do a better job.  But nothing is perfect so if you willbe kind enough to let me know the difficulties you have in building the project I will incorporate your suggestions into future versions. The instructions come with 22 heads...enough for the double ranked Gazimba® that many of you saw at the conference.  You should be able to find all the materials at a local hardware store. Go to my products page and order one for your school. 

I am willing to make all or any part of the instrument for you but realize that I don’t run a Henry Ford assembly line in my basement nor do I outsource labor -  at least not yet. I make them one at a time. I don't inventory any of the materials so I have to chase off to 2 or 3 harrdware stores, get all the parts and then setup to build the instrument. If you are interested in multiples of these instruments, costs will go down because I can make the second one much faster after I've set up to make the first one. Don't be surprised if I estimate the first one at about $500 and if you are getting 4 or more the price goes down to $400 each plus S&H.  I believe you should be able to make the entire instrument for less than 1/2 of that. The ones I make come with 2 bags. Each holds 11 tubes and one leg of the table. Call or email me if you would like me to make one for you. I intend to add those bags as products online soon.

Native American Flute...

On last day of the MENC 2008 Biennial Convention, Sounds We Make LLC’s sponsored a Native American flute drawing. We gave away three of our flutes.

"I absolutely love the flute" is a statement I just received from Chris Vece, one of the winners and a music education major from the prestigious Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut. He has had the flute about a week and sent this wonderfully imaginative setting of the Lakota Courting Song which is one of the songs I’ve included in my instruction manual. He notes that he put this piece together quickly so the recording is a little iffy but I think you will easily sense that he really has captured the idea of this instrument. Here is another piece that uses one of my flutes and a very inexpensive Casio keyboard. It is from my album Soundscape 2 that I call Morning Spirit.

Now that high quality, relatively inexpensive Native American flutes are available there are compelling reasons for North American music educators to consider using it as a powerful musical and cultural classroom experience.  There are more than enough reasons to justify their introduction at any musical level. 

Musical reasons:

First, lets consider some of the objections based on the limitations of the instrument.

Cons: At the outset one would think there are enough reasons not to consider this instrument. Its range is limited to less than two octave (octave and a 3rd).  There is a gap (minor 3rd ) between the 1st and 2nd note.  It only plays a complete chromatic scale starting on the second note. And the fingerings for chromatic notes are forked, not all that intuitive nor easy to remember. The part that is often strapped over the air hole up to the tone hole (called the saddle or the bird) is sometimes difficult to adjust. My flutes use a saddle that I developed that clips onto the tube and is easy to adjust. Should you lose it, and somehow kids manage to do that, the instrument won't work.

Positives: It is simple to produce a full beautiful flute sound.  There are only 6 holes and lifting one finger at a time allows one to naturally play a pentatonic scale (o.k. I know, you need to put a piece of tape over hole #4 which is the hole with the smallest diameter on my flute).  However, that key element allows so many to become so expressive so quickly.  Unlike all those other Orff instruments that are struck with a mallet, this is a wind instrument which allows for an infinite combination of sounds to be performed in a pentatonic context, moving about as quickly or slowly as you want your fingers to move.  All this is under the expressive control of volume which is controled by the intensity of air that you allow to pass over the tone hole.  So once again we see the truth that limitations often present opportunities for creativity. Here the basic limitations of the 6 hole flute (in one key) allows for limitless expressive musical possibilities.

There are no problems getting the initial sound on a NAF.  You simply blow into it.  Getting a beautiful controlled sound does take time and producing a high quality sound should be an important goal.  If your focus is on "sound" at the outset the paradigm is no longer building a machine that presses down fingers that correspond to the notes on the staff...the focus is on sharpening listening skills and as you will see in the next few paragraphs using sound to add to a child's personal pallet of skills to communicate and express ideas and feelings... 

We often associate improvisation with jazz.  But, church organists (e.g. Bach) frequently improvise during a service.  It is simple to use imagery of birds, trees, chipmunks, mountains to develop ones abilities to improvise on the NAF. Improvising short melodies should be another important goal.  The NAFis a solo instrument so beginners might be guided by using such imagery that comes from storytelling to play melodies that emanate from within.  The NAF allows you to explore your own music.  And yes, if you must and I'm sure you must, there are a number of songs that you can teach children to play that they are familiar with from Hot Cross Buns to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

You might ask...how are we supposed to teach about those important notes that represent pitch?  You might say… the standards specify that we are to teach so and so ….   I will challenge you by asking why do we teach what we teach?  I will challenge you by asking if it could be remotely possible that “the standards” hammered out by our elders a decade ago might at some time now or in the future stand in the way of a young person’s ability to organize and use sound effectively to communicate feeling?  Or has that goal not been stated yet? Now that THE STANDARDS have been carved in stone, does that mean that the way we organize sounds in our life must be sanctioned by them?

Do we dare to challenge THE STANDARDS?

Great artists of every generation have been depicted as revolutionaries.  We who teach in the arts should certainly understand why. Once our "ART" has become "standard-ized" we are in trouble.  Do you dare to teach Native American Flute in your classroom?

Introduction to Cultural Reasons...

Besides the beating of a ceremonial drum at pow wow, the sound of the NAF has come to represent a past that honored an ideal life closer to nature that was perhaps more in harmony with the natural world, having a respect for all living things.  Indeed the sound of the NAF is used frequently especially in documentaries and other media as a symbol that harkens to that past and awakens thoughts of Indian values.  I would like to discuss more about the Cultural Reasons for Native American Flutes and who knows what else in the next issue of the Didjeridoodle® .   Please share any insights you have about the above. Are you using NAF in your classrooms? 


Most of you reading this have had me do programs in your school/library/organization. Now is a good time to schedule Hal Kacanek PhD, to Explore the Global Soundscape at your conference, workshop, school, library, church, corporate event, etc.   For the fun of it: a workshop on building and playing NAF is very cool…organize your group and I come with all the materials you need…  I’ll do the same with didjeridoos although I won’t guarantee that your group will learn to circular breath I can get them a lot closer to it. 


March 4 , 2008

My Tom Tom really blew it helping me find my way to the Trefoil Oaks Program Center. Fortunately Sandy at the Racine County Girl Scouts office navigated me there by phone. If you find your way up the hidden drive your eyes will feast on a beautiful facility that gives you the feeling that you are in a wonderful natural setting.  85 girl scouts came with lots of enthusiasm and energy galore.  They were definetely ready to explore the global soundscape and for two hours, that went much too fast, we did just that.  We made and played instruments of every persuasion. I'm sure the mom's and dad's driving home got an earfull. These young girls got there at 5 pm and went to 7 pm...I thought that it was remarkable how they were able to hold themselves together so well.  We got a lot accomplished and we had lots of fun doing it. Thanks to Sue, Sarah, Sandy and to all the parents who helped out.

February 10, 2008

Man, if you live in Wisconsin, Sunday Feb 10 was not the day to be driving around.  Frigid cold, at least minus 10 degrees, slipping on icey roads I honestly believed that I'd be lucky if even 5 people showed for my special Sunday school program on sound. Downtown Waukesha was a ghost town but when I got to St. Marks it was bustling with people and an abundance of warmth was pouring out the door.  The kids were great, the programs were enjoyed and the 45 minute wait between programs was filled with the best goodies you can imagine.  Thanks again St. Marks for your warmth on such a cold day.

February 2, 2008

The crowd at the Pauline Haas Memorial library in Sussex WI was both young and small...so we cast off the main program and went right to the hands on.  We had fun romping around the global soundscape.  But even better yet a middle aged couple showed up with their son...just happened to be Dan Tennise and Linda Zimmerman Tennise (former students of mine whom I haven't seen for years) and son Matt who is about 10 years old.  What a great time we all had.


The Didgeridoodle Vol 1 #1

O.K. If you can think of a better name then offer it up..I'll change it in an instant. If you leave me your e-mail address I will make sure you are notified when the next issue is published.

I am just reflecting on a wonderful year of presentations of Exploring the Global Soundscape, residencies and workshops. I am heartened by the comments I have received and delighted that many schools and professional conferences have chosen to invite me back. That along with your encouraging comments have given me the strength, energy and enthusiasm to make this program work. The range of interest for my programs is amazing..I have been booked by the Fox River Girl Scouts 10 times in the past two years (Thanks Jennifer), the Milwaukee Girl Scouts have booked me for 4 programs a year for the last 5 years (thanks Kathi), the Teachers of Experiential and Adventure Methodology Conference four times in the past four years, the Michigan Alliance for Gifted Education twice in the past two years and I will even be addressing the Milwaukee Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in December. Many schools have already started booking for 2001-2002. Upcoming events are a series of 4 interactive T.V. programs with CESA 7 (grant dependent) and a return after 5 years away, as artist in residence for the Young Artist Workshop at St. Norbert College for 3 weeks this summer. The Young Artist Workshop focuses on children with exceptional educational needs. That too is grant dependent.

Notable this year has been the development of an umbrella business named SOUNDS WE MAKE LLC which incorporates both services and products. Two new products are the Native American Flute Kit and the Gazimba(r) . I worked out the idea of a PVC pipe Native American flute about 6 years ago and it occurred to me that it was so good that others might enjoy making one themselves. It has gone a long way and is in stores in Ann Arbor, Milwaukee and Olympia WA. If you want to build one from scratch check the plans on my web site http://www.drhal.net . Otherwise you can buy an excellent kit from me - or the stores in the above areas. Other kits (not formally on the market but available) are Zampanos (pan pipes), Cow Horn Shaker, Didjeridoo (37" with beeswax and paint and brush).

The Gazimba is a very exciting instrument which I started developing last spring. It came into its present form for a Milwaukee Symphony children's concert presentation this winter. Now I incorporate it as one of the Exploring the Global Soundscape adventures. It has become one of the prominent instruments in my residencies. Guess what? The plans for that too are on my website..there are at least 3 more surprises that make my website worthwhile checking into every so often. More is on the way!

I have had 4 exceptional residencies in the past 4 weeks which have really involved young people in highly creative artistic endeavors. 4 day residencies at Blair El in Waukesha WI and Purdy El in Ft. Atkinson WI included creating the story, music, dance, masks, art and even the instruments for the resulting performance. At Blair El. the core group was 12 (We adapted the Three Little Pigs - chosen and developed by the children). At Purdy El. the core group was 160.. (we adapted Dragon Soup by Arlene Williams). Thanks to great administrative and teacher cooperation both were exceptional experiences.

Sounds We Make LLC, Dr. Hal, presentations, inservice workshops and residencies is a model for schools to see how the arts work to bring all areas of the curriculum together. I bring a working model of that to schools and generally present to k-1, 2-3, 4-6. Teachers and children listen and know that in one hour they have experienced something quite unique...a profound new interest in the sounds they and others make. They also know that they may pursue that interest through the physical and social sciences or through various of the arts including language and music.

How do others find out about my program? Well I could spend big bucks and go broke on advertising in every journal and perhaps lose all my energy by showing up at every trade show. I could smother everyone's mailboxes with tons of brochures. I choose not to do that. This webpage speaks for itself. Browse the up to date testimonials and peruse the program offerings. Then book me for a program at your school.
If you somehow came upon this website and have read this far I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts about my website and this newsletter. Thank you in advance for your help. Have an enjoyable summer.

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