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Trees and Tones - Wooden Instrument Traditions: African Blackwood

  • UC Berkeley Botanical Garden 200 Centennial Drive Berkeley, CA 94720 (map)

African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is the tree from which flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bagpipes are made. Growing almost exclusively in Tanzania and Mozambique, it is used for sculpture, medicine and more. Come view the landmark documentary, Mpingo: The Tree that Makes Music, narrated by David Attenborough and released in 1992 that brought the role of trees in music making at the forefront of the discussion. After a screening of the 43 minute film, we will be joined by Brenda Schuman-Post who will bring us up to date where the film left off. 

Virtuoso oboist Brenda Schuman-Post is the first musician in history to witness every detail from finding and harvesting an African Blackwood tree, to the making of a top of the line instrument.
In 2008 she’d won a Global Connections grant “to create, via improvisation, a new piece of music that would bond the people in whose forests African Blackwood (grenadilla, mpingo, pau preto) grows, with the people who play musical instruments made from that tree”. She performed for audiences who had never before seen nor heard any Western keyed woodwind instrument.

Brenda will play the oboe, show slides and video, exhibit authentic Makonde sculptures, and engage you with a hands-on display of the wood. She’ll talk about the characteristics, uses, search for and harvesting of the tree, about the people and places where it grows, her experiences in East Africa, and about what's currently being done to lift destitute East Africans out of poverty by preserving, conserving, protecting, and replanting African Blackwood.

Brenda is the director of Sonic Forest, a diverse musical ensemble devoted to educational/entertaining programs that inform audiences about the relationships of music to nature.

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Biocultural diversity can be defined as the inextricable link between biological diversity and cultural diversity. In no area is this this relationship exemplified than in musical traditions from around the world. This Fall, as a part of our “Year of Trees,” the UC Botanical Garden is hosting a four part series that highlights the relationship between music and plants as seen in instrument making and musical traditions throughout the world. We start the series with a feature on African Blackwood Dalbergia melanoxylon also known as Mpingo, the tree that makes oboes and clarinets. We then move into the stories of guitars from classical and folk perspectives, Indian classical instruments such as sitars and tamburas their fascinating use of woods and gourds, and we end the series understanding the conservation concerns of Pernambuco or Pau-Brasil Caesalpinia echinata and its unique use in the making of violin and cello bows. This series will bring together luthiers, scholars, botanists and musicians to take part in an important discussion around raising awareness of plants in our daily lives.

Registration required:  $40 / $35 UCBG Member

Registration info: Register online or by calling 510-664-7606, or by emailing gardenprograms@berkeley.edu

Event Contact: gardenprograms@berkeley.edu

Earlier Event: October 27
Downtown Berkeley Farmers' Market
Later Event: October 29
Mindfulness Mondays