Double bass (Frank Healy) and flute (Martin Doyle) in action.
As recently posted on this weblog, Martin Doyle featured on a radio programme called The Music Tree. As the The Music Tree is about the Mpingo (African Blackwood) tree and its popular timber that is used extensively for the production of woodwind instruments, one of the requirements for the programme was some Irish traditional music that was predominated by the Irish flute. This task fell upon Martin Doyle to organise.
Asides from making great Irish flutes, Martin is also an Aikido instructor who offers classes at the town hall in Liscannor, County Clare – the Aikido group is known as Clare Aikikai. One of the many wonderful aspects of the County Clare is that music is an integral part of the culture there – musicians, singers and story tellers abound in Clare as they do all over the west of Ireland. And so it is with Martin’s Aikido group. Four of the members are strong traditional musicians so Martin got them together after an Aikido session one evening and they recorded a very nice piece of traditional music – and The Aiki Céilí Band was born!
The Aiki Céilí Band consists of Martin Doyle (flute), Éamon McCarthy (flute), Frank Healy (double bass) and Gabrielle Cappachione (guitar). Featured on The Music Tree documentary, the piece consists of two reels and can also be listened to here: The Aiki Céilí Band – Flute Music »
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.
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…
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.