The heartwood of the Mpingo—located at the innermost core of the trunk—is so saturated with carbon that it’s black, making it particularly resistant to damage and therefore extremely well-suited for handling the rigors of instrument manufacturing.
“This tree is not only an official music tree, it’s also beneficial to this global carbon initiative that we’ve got going on,” Von Haugg said. “This tree actually absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than 12 other trees combined.”
But Von Haugg is as much a realist as she is a conservationist.
She isn’t against using Mpingo for instruments, she just wants to educate people on the ecological importance of the tree.
Since most Mpingo is harvested in Tanzania, Clarinets for Conservation works with students in Korongoni Secondary School in Moshi, Tanzania.
The students, most of whom have never seen, or heard, a clarinet, are introduced to the instrument and taught how to play it.
After learning a specific musical program and learning about the Mpingo tree they go on a trip around the region to visit local schools, where they put on an assembly and teach other students about the sought-after tree.
Following the assembly, the students take trees that they brought, some Mpingo, some not, and plant them around the school.
Last year, about 500 Mpingo trees were planted. They will be worth millions of dollars once they mature.
“Those trees become an investment in those schools,” Von Haugg said.
In the United States, Von Haugg does similar programs around the country with Clarinets for Conservation.
Some of them are straight recitals with booths set up to educate about the organization’s efforts, other times Von Haugg lectures about those efforts and includes a discussion of alternative methods of manufacturing instruments that reduce the impacts on Mpingos.
One such alternative is Buffet’s Greenline Clarinet, which is made from throw-away scraps of Mpingo that are ground to a powder and combined with glue.