"G'day, mates," Darren Liebman hollered as he picked up a didgeridoo. "G'day, mates," the students screamed back.
The children - all members of the Hillsborough Out of School Time program at Collins Elementary - were being treated to an interactive, educational workshop featuring Australian Aboriginal music.
Called Didgeridoo Down Under, the workshop included powerful messages about education, literacy and respect for all cultures and creatures.
The 3- to 10-foot instrument, which Aborigines traditionally play at rituals, celebrations and ceremonial gatherings, is made of hollowed out hardwood, such as eucalyptus and bamboo.
Playing the didgeridoo between discussions on Australian geography, history, language and art, Liebman made it mimic the sounds of nature - a dog growling, crickets chirping, kangaroos hopping, even heat rising.
"The students really enjoyed his presentation," said Ashley Evans, an assistant instructor for HOST. "I overheard kids talking afterward about the instruments and the way he introduced the animals, especially the snake."
"I liked it best when he played the didgeridoo," said fifth-grader Ashley Casiano, 10. "I learned it comes in all shapes and sizes. It made some really cool noises."
The didgeridoo has no reed or valve. It is played by continuously vibrating the lips to produce its drone, by using a special technique called circular breathing. The performer breathes in through his nose and simultaneously expels air from his mouth.
Liebman is a native of South Africa. He first learned about the didgeridoo while visiting relatives in Australia. On his fifth trip Down Under, he purchased one and became hooked. Returning to the United States, he taught himself to play.
"Playing the didgeridoo soon grew into a deep physical, mental and spiritual connection for me," Liebman said. "I developed such a passion and found myself wanting to share it with others."
In 2001, Liebman formed a foundation called Didg Revolution and a Florida-based musical trio of the same name that specializes in the didgeridoo.
The next year, Liebman developed Didgeridoo Down Under, an Australia-themed education- and entertainment-based program. Its mission is to promote racial and cultural harmony, environmental protection and global awareness; generate excitement about reading, writing, exploring and creating; further appreciation and knowledge of world music and indigenous art; and expand student vocabulary and word comprehension.
Perhaps more importantly, Liebman said, the program encourages kindness and respect toward all living things.
"It's so multifaceted," he said. "We have cool music, unique theatrics, puppetry, comedy and lots of audience interaction to get the kids' attention, and then we deliver important educational and character-building messages."
"I love what we do," he said. "I get so excited that I don't want to go to bed at night, and I can't wait to get up in the morning."
Liebman and his fellow musicians perform together and separately at schools, libraries, festivals and other venues throughout the Southeast. Since 2003, they have presented more than 1,600 shows at 900 locations, he said.
For information, call (813) 961-4656, (813) 833-8856 or visit www.didgrevolution.com.