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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, February 23, 2012
The world travels to Berne on the notes of the clarinet and the rhythm of the djembe
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
BERNE Carson Dorward carefully, oh, so carefully, cradled a dried gourd covered with an old blue fishing net laced with African seashells. He gently shook the hollow gourd, and the rhythmic sound resonated across his Berne classroom.
Next to him, second-grade classmate Ethan Buchardt cupped his hands and pounded on the taut skin of a djembe, a tall drum hand carved of dark wood. Beside him, Britney Beisly smiled as she tapped a pair of bells.
Weaving the sounds together were the plaintive notes of the clarinet, played by Michele Von Haugg. When the song was over, the notes hung in the air a moment before the second-graders and several adult onlookers burst into applause.
Von Haugg told the delighted performers to bow. They did.
Afterwards, Britney said she had never played an instrument before. “It was the funnest day of my life,” she said.
“If I ever played that instrument in front of the class, I would pass out,” said Richard Sanderson. “I would get stage fright.”
“It was a weird feeling,” conceded Carson of shaking the gourd. He said that he’d like to learn to play the drums, like his dad and 13-year-old sister, five years his senior.
Tegan Hoffman said he enjoyed the performance. “I never heard live music before,” he said. “I learned clarinets are made out of trees.”
The performance followed an around-the-world tour of music as Von Haugg and Scott Horsington gave a concert-level performance of various kinds of music on their clarinets. Von Haugg, who grew up in Berne and learned to play the clarinet at the school that she visited last Friday, founded Clarinets for Conservation. Horsington is the assistant director of the not-for-profit group.
Founded two years ago, Clarinets for Conservation stresses the value of the African Blackwood, Tanzania’s national tree, known in Swahili as the mpingo. The heart of the endangered tree is used to make clarinets and other musical instruments.
Von Haugg, who has played in the Air Force Band of Liberty and performed as a soloist for the Air National Guard Band, journeyed to Tanzania in 2010 with a dozen donated clarinets. She taught students in Moshi to play them and also worked with Sebastian Chuwa, director of the African Blackwood Conservation Project, to plant native trees that are now endangered.
A return trip is planned for this spring.
Riding sound around the world
With a world map behind them on the Berne classroom wall, Von Haugg and Horsington played songs from around the globe.
“Does anyone know what continent we’re on?” asked Von Haugg.
“New York,” answered one boy, “or is that the country?”
“North America,” responded another boy, pleased at having given the correct answer.
“What is the furthest you’ve ever traveled?” asked Von Haugg.
“Myrtle Beach,” came an answer. Von Haugg then described her journey to Tanzania, which involved four hours by train, 17 hours on two planes, and a 13-hour bus ride to Moshi.
“We had chickens and goats and fish on the bus…It was like a traveling grocery store,” she said.
Von Haugg went on to describe the language. “In Tanzania, they speak Swahili,” she said. She had opened the lesson by greeting the students with “Mambo,” and telling them to respond with “Poa.”
“ ‘Mambo’ means, ‘How ya doin’?’ and ‘poa’ means ‘cool,’” said Von Haugg as the kids tried out the unfamiliar sounds.
“There are a lot of differences in everyday life there,” said Von Haugg.
“In Tanzania, they have to walk an hour to get water,” said Horsington.
Von Haugg said she believes, since the mpingo tree comes from Tanzania and is the national tree, “They should have these instruments.” She brandished her clarinet.
“They have never seen anything like it,” said Horsington.
“They don’t even believe it comes from there,” said Von Haugg. “They think it’s magic.”
“People write their own music for this instrument,” said Horsington. “The C note sounds the same anywhere, but they create different kinds of music.”
“Let’s go to Europe,” said Von Haugg, as the pair launched into an English march.
The kids sat, mesmerized by the music.
Next, they journeyed to South America, carried by the notes of a spicy tango.
“Let’s bring them back to America,” said Von Haugg. “Can you think of a style of music you may have heard the clarinet in?” she asked the kids.
“Jazz,” answered Zachary Swint.
“What about classical music?” asked Von Haugg.
“That’s old school,” said a student.
“What we’re going to play, you could call old-school blues,” said Von Haugg.
Tapping her foot, Von Haugg moved her body as if she were charming a snake, swaying from side to side as she played her clarinet.
The students, still as statues, soaked in the sounds, as the notes from Horsington’s and Von Haugg’s clarinets wove in and out in undulating tones.
The kids clapped long and hard when the song ended.
Next, the classroom teacher, Marlene Tiffany, who had once taught Von Haugg, read a book by Diane Muldrow called We Planted a Tree. As her students gathered about her to sit on the floor, she urged them, “Remember, criss-cross, applesauce.” They obliged by crossing their legs, so they could sit closely side by side.
As Tiffany read the poem, inspired by the work of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, Von Haugg and Horsington played their clarinets and the African instruments as an audio illustration. When Tiffany read about how the tree enriched the soil, saying, “We could grow our own food and we ate better,” Von Haugg rang the African bells.
“We planted a tree and that one tree helped heal the Earth,” read Tiffany to the sound of a drumbeat. “We planted a tree and it grew up and so did we.”
Von Haugg and Horsington then led the kids in a discussion about what they could do to help trees from recycling their classroom papers to taking their own shopping bags to the grocery store.
“With that one little thing, you could save many trees in your lifetime,” said Von Haugg.
As the musicians prepared to leave Tiffany’s classroom, the teacher said, “We’ll watch your blog while you’re in Tanzania.” Tiffany gave them an envelope with the $2 it takes to plant an mpingo seedling for each of her 21 students. She also gave books from the school’s student-run bookstore to take to their African counterparts.
“The students picked out these books for the children there,” Tiffany said. “That’s a gift to them.”
After the musicians left, the students enjoyed their morning snacks and chatted about all they had just seen and heard.
“I’ll definitely remember the Blackwood tree,” said Richard Sanderson.
Ethan Buchardt said he was impressed with the message in the book. “It’s a good idea to plant trees,” he said, “because, if they cut down trees, you’ll lose air.” He said he had enjoyed climbing trees at his old home in North Carolina.
Victoria Guthinger was most impressed to learn that instruments could be made from trees.
“I wished they could play songs from the sixties and nineties,” said Emily Bianchi of the musicians. She has a favorite song but didn’t want to name it “because it has a bad word in it,” she said. She whispered the name to her friend, who covered her mouth with her hand and giggled.
Alexis Wright said she had never before heard an African instrument. “I thought they were cool, the different ways they played them,” she said.
She felt a personal connection to Von Haugg because her grandmother told her that Von Haugg was in the same graduating class as her dad.
As her teacher read the story, Alexis said, “It was fun to hear the different instruments in the background.”
The message she got, Alexis said, was, “Anywhere you are, you should plant trees…We planted an apple tree in our backyard,” she said with pride.
She concluded of the entire presentation, “I thought it was really cool.”
She might have said poa.
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