Clarinet concert teaches conservation

Augustana College musicians performed a concert solely with clarinets, to teach about environmental conservation. On April 27, Clarinets for Conservation performed in Denkmann Memorial Hall.
Clarinets for Conservation, according to their website, “promotes awareness of conserving Mpingo (tree) by actively engaging students and the community with the power of music. Teaching secondary students in Tanzania to play the clarinet empowers them by improving problem-solving skills, facilitating self-sufficiency, and by providing a healthy creative outlet.”
Susan Schwaegler is a part time music instructor focusing on clarinet and similar instruments. She organized the concert to raise awareness, and said Mpingo wood is important in keeping Tanzania sustainable.
“The tree is not endanger of extinction but it’s very close to what we call being commercially extinct,” Schwaegler said. “It’s a very slow growing tree with very dense wood which is what makes it so valuable because it can hold the fine machining that’s necessary to make woodwind instruments. So as the bigger trees have been harvested it takes a really long time for the seedlings to grow and catch up, so it’s kind of crunch time there’s not so much usable wood anymore.”
She said the people who live there also use it for carvings and “gorgeous art pieces worth a lot of money.”
She had heard about the tree only 15 years ago, and after recently meeting with the group in person, she felt as if a concert to raise awareness would be well suited since it fit with so many things related to Augustana. Schwaegler said it relates to Augustana’s music department, relations to Africa and effort to be more green.
“Seedlings are given to children in villages and they nurture them like pets because it’s an important part of the economy,” she explained. “What this group does that’s a little different is they will go, the team, to villages and give performances because a lot of the folks have never seen a clarinet.”
She said the wood gets shipped off and the people there often do not understand what happens to it.
“So, they’re generally fascinated to see performances by actual clarinet players,” Schwaegler said. “They will stay there all summer and give lessons to kids so there’s a secondary school they go to and give classes for clarinet. And some of the students are getting fairly decent, some nice characteristic tones and everything.”
Some of the pieces in the concert included solos, duets, a bass clarinet quartet and trio. Also,  junior Chris Green will debut his transcription of Eric Whitacre’s “October,” for the clarinet choir.
Diana Cleveland, a bass clarinet player in the concert, said she is enthusiastic about the work they are doing.
“I think the initiative is really important… (the Tanzanians) don’t always know what their hard work is going towards…sharing music is something that is really important to me, and it’s what many people become musicians for,” she said.
Schwaegler is hoping that this will become an annual event, and has plans to pair up with St. Ambrose at the next concert.