Reaching our Roots and Creating Change through Music by Michele Von Haugg

Dr. Von Haugg opened her lecture with “hujambo” or hello in Swahili, the national language of Tanzania. This is where she focuses her energies during the summer months each year with her non-profit organization Clarinets for Conservation. Her mission is to sustain the Earth with music using an interdisciplinary program designed to teach conservation through music education. Their focus is on performance and community relations.

Dr. Von Haugg shared about her childhood in upstate New York and how her admiration of Dr. Jane Goodall proceeded to grow as she got older. During her ten years in the U.S. Air Force Bands she attended a clarinet conference where she saw a film about the building of instruments in Tanzania. It was then that she became determined to connect these two loves: nature and playing clarinet.

After establishing her love of trees, Dr. Von Haugg enlightened the audience about the native wood Mpingo, also known as African Blackwood. The commercially endangered material is what most modern clarinets are made of and it is only harvested in Tanzania and northern Mozambique. The trees take 70 to 200 years to mature before they can be harvested. The environmental and economic benefits of Mpingo trees were also discussed and pieces of the actual trees were passed around so that the audience could see the dark center. Over time the carbon absorbed by the trees turns the trunk a deep black color that we see on our instruments and becomes impermeable.

The Clarinets for Conservation program began in 2010 with twelve students. Dr. Von Haugg says her first visit was a crash course in the corruption and poverty that exists there. During this time she and her environmentalist translator visited schools to make her sales pitch, “Here is what I bring to this country. I would like to teach students to play it.” Hesitant at first, they would react with astonishment when they heard her play.

Von Haugg’s passion and pride in this program is evident. She believes in using music to teach sustainability by starting a community dialogue. If ever there was a musical missionary, she is it. I think Jane Goodall would definitely approve.

–Notes by Senior Airman Jennifer M. Daffinee
Jennifer is a member of the United States Air Force Band of the West and is also finishing her DMA at the University of North Texas with Kimberly Cole Luevano.

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