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Toot -- didgeridoo
Hal Kacanek demonstrates how a cardboard tube can become a musical instrument, as he uses it to make sounds similar to the Australian wind instrument, the didgeridoo. Kacanek's presentation Saturday on "Tots That Toot" was part of the 8th annual Think Big Start Small Early Care and Education Conference, held at Portage High School.

Hal Kacanek handed out more than 100 cardboard tubes Saturday to early childhood educators from all over Columbia County and invited them to make music.

For those who couldn't make a musical note come out of the tube just by blowing over the top opening, a la flute or soda bottle, he offered a hint: Put your mouth over the opening and hum the word "didgeridoo."

In offering this music lesson - and in demonstrating that a saucepan lid can produce a sustained bell tone, or that PVC pipes can be made into flutes or marimbas - Kacanek demonstrated that children can experience the joy of making sounds with everyday, ordinary things.

"Sound can take you places," he said, as he demonstrated a herald trumpet made from a piece of pipe. "There are a thousand things you can do to make beautiful sounds."

Kacanek, a musician and educator from Waukesha, offered the closing keynote presentation at the eighth annual Think Big Start Small Early Care and Education Conference, held at Portage High School.

More than 100 child care providers and early childhood educators attended the event, sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Extension Columbia County.

The title of his presentation was "Tots That Toot and Other Sound Ideas About Sounds We Make," but the sight and sound of adult women blowing on a cardboard tube demonstrated that the fun of making music from unlikely instruments isn't just for little children.

Take, for example, the whistle made from a plastic drinking straw.

When Mandy Albrecht of Portage, owner of Learning Ladder Family Day Care, got a tweet out of the notched straw, she tried to pass on the skill to 8-year-old Chris Spearman, who was seated near her.

And, in case anyone thought banging on pot lids was just for toddlers, Kacanek called on Chris - and on Heidi Duren, a preschool teacher from Spring Green - to demonstrate how lids of different size, suspended, could become chimes worthy of an orchestra.

Kacanek, in fact, recently performed with an orchestra.

In December, he performed in Milwaukee with the Concord Chamber Orchestra in the United States premier of the "Concerto for Didgeridoo" by Sean O'Boyle.

Instead of acquiring a didgeridoo from Australia - where the indigenous people have been playing the low-toned wind instrument for centuries - Kacanek made his instrument.

His Web site,, offers instructions on how to make a didgeridoo from PVC pipe and beeswax, and it gives other ideas for homemade instruments.

Duren - who had, earlier in the conference, presented a seminar on making music from recycled materials - showed Kacanek an idea of hers, a bagpipe made with a latex glove.

But it's not just the "how" of making music from everyday materials that is Kacanek's focus. It's also the "why."

Simply, children love sounds.

And, the time to engage them in making sounds is at about the time when they're acquiring language skills, in infancy and toddlerhood, he said.

As children get older, sound-making can offer insights into science (for example, how long can a tone be sustained when striking a pot lid that's 10 inches in diameter?) and ethics (which sounds are appropriate to make, at which times and under which circumstances?).

"You don't have to spend a gazillion dollars," Kacanek said, "to make sounds."