All nations can mark key moments in their history when an event, entity or individual has made a crucial contribution to the development and character of their homeland. Most often these moments seem to spring during times of adversity but history also shows that they can occur during peaceful and prosperous times as well. Ireland is a nation that has seen it’s fair share of adversity throughout the centuries but the courage and fortitude of her people has helped to forge and maintain a very special character that shines in the world as something most unique.
As with most colonised nations, the retention and eventual rejuvenation of the native language and music is tremendously important to the internal strength of a country. Examples of individual and collective commitment to the rejuvenation of Irish culture are many and varied. Ireland boasts a plethora of ‘heroes’ who, through the ages, have in various ways kept her sacred music alive for future generations to protect and develop. As a result, the music of Ireland is loved the world over and has kept it’s homeland’s heart beating proudly through thick and thin. Like her native language, Ireland’s music has been the mortar that has bound Ireland’s hopes, tears, smiles and dreams into an amalgam of collective fortitude.
Ludwig von Beethoven and Elizabeth Petcu – hearing lose a challenge, but not an impairment.
And what of the Elizabeth Petcu / Ludwig von Beethoven connection? Well, there appear to be common threads running through both lives. Sure they don’t share the same age, address, flute maker or historical gravitas, but they do share a passion for music – the universal language. Ludwig composed his own music of course, and Elizabeth has performed many of these creations over the span of her professional career.
They also share a similar adversity. Elizabeth Petcu suffers from a condition known as otosclerosis, which is the most common cause of progressive deafness in young adults. Some consider otosclerosis to be the most likely cause of Beethoven’s deafness. Whatever the case, it is well documented that Beethoven went on composing despite near complete deafness. In Elizabeth’s case too, when her hearing impediment forced her into retirement from the RTE, she has kept up with her practice and performs wherever she can with an enduring energy, cheerfulness and enthusiasm that is fuelled by a great love for sharing her gift of music with others. Composers must compose, performers must perform. Audiences, large or small, receive the fruit of this wonderful synthesis.
The Different Voices series on Ireland’s Newstalk 106-108 FM radio station continues with The Music Tree – a documentary featuring the Irish flute maker Martin Doyle.
Martin Doyle in Tanzania.
As a young man, Martin Doyle travelled from his native Bray in County Wicklow to Africa. He was employed as a ships engineer for a couple of years – a job he took to raise much needed funds to purchase expensive tools and machinery for his dream of developing a flute making business in the early 1980s. The hard work and time away from Ireland paid off, and as the years have passed, the dream has blossomed into a reality.
Now an established and highly respected flute maker living in County Clare, Martin decided to revisit East Africa where African Blackwood (Mpingo as it is known in Tanzania), the timber that Martin makes most of his flutes from, is grown. There he hopes to visit the forests where the Mpingo grows, to meet those whose livelihoods depend upon it. He also hopes to make an Irish flute with the help of local craftsmen in a Tanzanian workshop – quite possibly a world first!
Martin Doyle at the workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. From left: Martin, Focus Senga, Salim and James Laizer.
Martin Doyle is currently visiting Tanzania with Nina Perry of Falling Tree Productions to make a radio documentary called The Music Tree for the Irish radio station Newstalk. The Music Tree will feature Martin Doyle as an instrument maker visiting the area of East Africa where the Mpingo (African Blackwood) trees grow. Since the nineteenth century African Blackwood has been a timber favoured for woodwind instruments as its density, tonal properties, stability and durability are incomparable.
This trip is in its own way an historical occasion as many of the local people of Tanzania, some of whom are involved in burgeoning Mpingo conservation projects, have never before met a European craftsman who uses their timber to make musical instruments. Martin accomplished the task of making a flute with some of the local Mpingo carvers on the third day of his visit and by all accounts they were enthralled when it was played to them.
Nina Perry is kindly authoring a blog dedicated to the trip – Music Tree – so that we distant onlookers can keep abreast of events. No story, small or large, is complete without a picture or two, so here is one from Nina’s blog:
Martin Doyle is to feature in a radio programme to be called The Music TreeNewstalk. The project is being headed by Nina Perry (who also produced Sounding Post which looked at the use of wood for instruments and featured several instrument makers including Martin Doyle) for Falling Tree Productions. […] The Music Tree is to accompany Irish flute-maker Martin Doyle from County Clare to Tanzania where he plans to demonstrate Irish flute making so that accomplished local craftsmen might learn his skills to boost the economy surrounding this rare wood and, for the first time, hear the sound of instruments made from the local blackwood trees.
Nina Perry has very kindly offered this update on the trip:
Martin Doyle is bound for the East African nation of Tanzania this coming August to take part in the production of a radio programme.
Tanzania is home to the famed Mpingo tree from which the highly valued timber known as African Blackwood is harvested. This wood has been one of the first choices for woodwind instruments such as clarinets, oboes, bag pipes and flutes for over 150 years now, but was also valued by furniture making as far back as the time of the Egyptians. It is a timber favoured for it’s density, durability and exceptional tonal qualities.
Martin Doyle is to feature in a radio programme to be called The Music Tree that is being produced for the Irish radio station Newstalk. The project is being headed by Nina Perry (who also produced Sounding Post which looks at the use of wood for instruments and featured several instrument makers including Martin Doyle) for Falling Tree Productions. This from Nina Perry:
Nina Perry – music, sound and radio.
“The Music Tree is to accompany Irish flute-maker Martin Doyle from County Clare to eastern Tanzania where he plans to demonstrate Irish flute making so that accomplished local craftsmen might learn his skills to boost the economy surrounding this rare wood and, for the first time, hear the sound of instruments made from the local blackwood trees.”
Martin Doyle is one of several instrument makers interviewed in a feature radio programme called Sounding Post. Produced by Nina Perry – an independent radio producer, composer and sound designer from London who produces features with Falling Tree Productions for BBC Radio 4, Sounding Post will be airing on May the 9th at 11 am (GMT), and looks at the use of timber in instrument making around the world.
Nina Perry’s ‘composed feature’ Sounding Post traces a musical journey from the instrument-makers’ workshops and music studios of Europe and America, via the woods of southern England across to the mpingo (African blackwood) conservation project of Tanzania. The relationship that each individual in the process – forester, craftsman, musician and environmentalist – has with the wood reveals insights into our feeling for nature, the materials we derive from our surroundings and the irresistible impulse to express ourselves musically.
From an Irish flute maker, Martin Doyle, an English Luthier, Martin Bowers, luthiers supplier David Dyke and a Los Angeles based guitarist, Laurence Juber, to the English forester Martin Charlton and members of the Mpingo Conservation Project in Southeastern Tanzania and Scott Paul of the Greenpeace MusicWood campaign, we hear about the sonorous qualities of different species, the increasing issue of maintaining sustainable supplies and the people who connect the music to the tree.
Sounding Post also features some great acoustic music which includes Martin Doyle playing wooden flute.
Martin Doyle playing one of his own keyless D flutes made from African Blackwood with a sterling silver tuning slide.