Instrumental education

In one hour last Wednesday, 20-month-old Romel McCloud tried his hand at the mandolin, a Tibetan singing bowl and a wooden frog from Thailand that croaked when played just right. He could have experimented with a didgeridoo if he cared to.

"My son loves any kind of music, so when the opportunity presents itself, I try to jump on it," his mother, Rachelle McCloud, said. "I don't know anything about music, so if it was just me (teaching him), he would never learn anything."

The McClouds stayed after story time at the Ashland Public Library to try out instruments from around the world, part of a month-long series at the library on Wednesdays at 11 a.m. The event is sponsored by Van and Kathleen Fleming, co-founders of Living Dojo, a community-building and music healing group in Ashland.

"The reason we do this is because we have a lot of fun doing this as a family," said Kathleen Fleming, who has a 4-year-old daughter, Joya. "A lot of kids are not allowed to touch and play (instruments), and a lot of adults have never been able to, either."

The Flemings have been musicians most of their lives, but it wasn't until Van learned to play the didgeridoo after a series of dreams and a chance meeting with an aboriginal elder that their focus shifted to indigenous instruments. Before moving to Ashland four years ago, they lived in Hawaii, where they began their collection of instruments and started community music circles. Kathleen began making her own instruments out of native seeds and monkey pods that fell from the trees.

Although nearly anyone can get notes out of their simple instruments, they're not as easy to play as they look, Van and Kathleen said.

"You can bang on a singing bowl, and it'll make a nice sound," Van Fleming said. "But there's room to grow and be inspired, too."

Once he learned the basics of how to play the didgeridoo, an instrument originally made of eucalyptus trees hollowed out by termites, he still had to master the circular breathing and experiment with adding vocals and manipulating the sound with his tongue and cheeks.

The possibilities of seemingly straightforward instruments make them perfect for small children, he said.

"It keeps the channels of creativity open and inspires them to go in other directions they hadn't thought of before," he said. "I've seen it change a child's life when they think they can't do something and then they can and then be part of something bigger."

Acacia Land and her partner, Scott Miller, who also plays the didgeridoo, brought their daughter Neemah for more than just an hour of fun.

"It can be calming, and I think it's great for brain development in children," Land said. "It's very important for (our daughter) to be around."

For the upcoming sessions of world instrument play, the Flemings plan to add more instruments, some costumes and children's songs, and they may even have a craft day so kids can take their music home with them.

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