Martin Doyle has long dreamed of making flutes using timbers that have been produced in environmentally friendly and socially equitable modes. In recent years, Martin has been involved in a number of projects that have highlight a movement toward that reality and he has participated in the making of three radio documentaries highlighting the sustainable use of African Blackwood – Mpingo as the valued tonewood is known in east Africa. Martin is the first flute maker to produce an Irish flute from FSC certified African Blackwood having received a small amount of the timber some months ago.
Martin Doyle with the newly arrived FSC certified African Blackwood.
This week Martin received his first full shipment of FSC certified African Blackwood which prompted the following comment:
“The arrival of this timber gives us the feeling of working in a sustainable environment that is genuinely beneficial to the people of Tanzania and we are very happy to be participating in a chain of events that has a positive outcome for everyone involved. It’s a great joy!”
Martin thinks that this shipment of timber has been harvested from the sustainably managed Mpingo forests around the village of Kikoli in eastern Tanzania – an area Martin visited during his trip to Tanzania in 2009. Martin’s plan is to be using FSC certified African Blackwood exclusively from the beginning of 2012 as his present stock of material diminishes. The flutes made from the FSC certified timber will be stamped accordingly.
Sound & Fair is an organisation that aims to realise a sustainable trade in African blackwood through a Chain of Custody linking forest-dependent people in Tanzania to woodwind instrument musicians throughout the world.
Martin Doyle has recently been featured in a Sound & Fair news item regarding a new batch of Irish flutes that he has produced from Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified African Blackwood – a ‘world’s first’ for the flute making community. Martin’s concern for conservation and the conscious use of timber goes back to when he first began working with wood. In the Sound & Fair article he comments:
Martin Doyle has for a number of years supported the sustainable use of African Blackwood (aka Grenadilla and Mpingo) – a unique tone wood that grows only in east Africa and has been used extensively by instrument makers throughout the world for over two centuries. He has recently produced his first flute made from African Blackwood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organisation established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests.
In the past, Martin has been involved in producing documentaries for radio which explore the use and conservation of African Blackwood. This included Sounding Post and The Music Tree which were both produced by Nina Perry of Falling Tree Productions. In 2009, in the process of making of The Music Tree, Martin travelled to Tanzania with Nina where he saw first hand the efforts being made to manage the sustainable replanting and harvesting of African Blackwood. The local people who live in and around the Mpingo forests are now involved in all phases of the procedure and are reaping their share in the profits as well – a welcome stimulation to their economy that raises the standard of living.
Joe Doyle playing Martin Doyle’s first flute made from FSC certified African Blackwood (Mpingo).
Martin was also interviewed regarding the flutes he is making using FSC certified Blackwood by Peter Browne of Ireland’s RTÉ Radio 1 and featured on Peter’s The Rolling Wave programme.
Joe Doyle (one of Martin Doyle’s two sons, pictured right) was recently visiting Martin for a few days at his home near Liscannor in County Clare. A talented musician himself, Joe had the chance to play the first of the new flutes made from FSC certified African Blackwood and a recording was made that can be heard here: The Green Fields of Rosbeigh by Joe Doyle – Flute Music »
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 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.”
“Nina Perry takes a musical journey tracing the wood used in making musical instruments back to the forest, from an Irish flute maker and a Los Angeles-based guitarist to the Mpingo Conservation Project in Tanzania.” – BBC Radio 4.
Unfortunately Sounding Post is not currently available online ( since early 2015, it can be heard here: Sounding Post ). The two excerpts that have been added to Martin’s web site feature Martin talking about flute making and playing music on a ‘fresh off the lathe’ flute. The tune that Martin plays during the course of the interview is called Na Ceannabháin Bhána.
And on that note, here is a video clip that offers another version of Na Ceannabháin Bhána played by the late Kitty Hayes (concertina) and Clare piper Peter Laban (Uilleann pipes). Recorded in May 2008 at Miltown Malbay in County Clare, Kitty and Peter play two slip jigs actually – the afore mentioned Na Ceannabháin Bhána and also Hardiman the Fiddler. Enjoy…
Here I am in County Clare, Ireland, and staying with my friend Martin Doyle for a few days. I have brought Martin three sticks of Kanuka wood that were kindly given to me by Paul Whinray – a recorder maker who lives in West Auckland, New Zealand. The Kanuka wood was cut, bored and turned into round sticks by Paul in the late 1980s so it is well cured.
Martin set me to work on preparing the sticks and with the kind guidance of his son Ógi, and Martin doing all the critical work, we produced a wonderful flute. It has a lovely tone (milder than the hardwoods like African Blackwood and Cocus) that I am sure will develop nicely with playing. The end cap of the flute is made of Cocus wood. Here’s a look at it:
Martin Doyle Irish flute made from New Zealand kanuka wood – click the image to see a larger version.