Trees & Tones: Wood Instrument Traditions

Lecture + Concert Series

Biocultural diversity can be defined as the inextricable link between biological diversity and cultural diversity. An area where this relationship is distinctively exemplified is in musical traditions from around the world. This fall, as a part of our “Year of Trees” programming, the UC Botanical Garden is hosting a four-part series that highlights the relationship between music and plants as seen in instrument making and musical traditions throughout the world. We start the series with a feature on African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) also known as Mpingo, the tree that is used for making oboes and clarinets. We then move into the stories of guitars (both classical and Mexican folk traditions), and Indian classical instruments, such as sitars and tamburas and their fascinating use of woods and gourds. We end the series understanding the conservation concerns surrounding Pernambuco or Pau-Brasil (Caesalpinia echinata) and this tree’s unique use in the making of violin and cello bows. This series will bring together luthiers, scholars, botanists and musicians to take part in an important discussion that raises the awareness of trees in our cultural lives.

Sunday October 28 | 4 – 6:30 pm

African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is the tree from which flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bagpipes are made. Growing almost exclusively in Tanzania and Mozambique, it is also used for sculpture, medicine and more. Come view the landmark documentary, Mpingo: The Tree that Makes Music, narrated by David Attenborough and released in 1992 that brought the role of trees in music making to the forefront of the discussion. After a screening of the 43 minute film, we will be joined by Brenda Schuman-Post who will bring us up to date from where the film left off. A musical performance by Sonic Forest will follow.

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Sunday, November 4 | 4 – 6:30 pm

Come learn about the history of guitars from different parts of the world and the many woods used to make them. We’ll be joined by local luthier John F. Mello, a classical guitar maker who will discuss how different woods impact the sounds and how the very same set of raw materials can be given different lives depending on the hand of the luthier. He’ll be partnered with a classical guitarist Peter Zisa. Following this presentation we’ll turn to a folk tradition of Mexico, Son Jarocho, where we’ll hear a lecture-demonstration from TARIMBA of the various instruments used, featuring the jarana, guitarra de son, and a rustic violin from Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz.


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Sunday, November 11 | 4 – 6:30 pm

Learn all about sitars and tamburas with instrument maker J. Scott Hackleman. For over 40 years Scott has been studying sitar, traveling to India, and making and repairing hundreds of Indian instruments for artists such as Ravi Shankar and institutions such as Cal Arts. Discover the woods used to make these instruments such as Tun (Toona ciliata), Sheesham (Dalbergia sissoo), and Ebony (Diospyros ebenum). Additionally, gourds will be discussed. This will be followed by and interspersed with a sitar, tambura, and tabla performance by Joanna Mack (sitar) and Ferhan Quereshi (tabla).

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Sunday, November 18 | 4 – 6:30 pm

Perhaps one of the most emblematic stories and relationships between a tree and classical music is that of the Pau–Brasil tree (Caesalpinia echinata) and its use in the making of violins and cello bows. We’ll hear from retired UC Berkeley Professor Zac Cande on the conservation issues around the tree and will also be joined by Lisa Grodin, faculty member of the Crowden School and violinist who will compare baroque and modern bows.

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Public Programs

The Garden hosts a diverse offering of public programs that provide learning opportunities in a variety of plant-based topics. Visit our calendar to see upcoming programs and scroll below to discover the many ways in which you can engage and experience the Garden.


Art + Design

Art courses at the UC Botanical Garden are inspired by the natural world and our diverse plant collection. The Garden offers regular botanical illustration courses, as well as one day workshops in watercolor, brush painting, drawing and other art forms.

The Garden hosts indoor art exhibitions each year, including our annual Plants Illustrated exhibit of Botanical Art. We have also worked with many talented Bay Area artists to present provocative installations. Visit our Exhibitions page to see past and upcoming exhibitions.

October 25 & 26Drawing from Trees with Karen LeGault 
November 10Hand Block Printing with Natural Dyes 
November 29 & 30 Botanical Illustration: Winter & Holiday Subjects with Catherine Watters 
December 14 Painting Pines with Karen LeGault 

Families + Children

The Garden loves its budding botanists, and in addition to our beloved summer day camp, Green Stuff, the Garden offers monthly family programs uniquely designed for families to learn together.

October 27 · Weaving from Nature
November 17Music from Plants
December 8 – Botanical Holiday Crafts – MORNING or AFTERNOON

Horticulture + Gardening

At the root of our programming, the Garden offers classes for the plant enthusiast, home gardener and botanist alike. Learn about the people and places that have shaped conservation and landscape design practices, and incorporate new practices in garden design into your landscape.

If you have a “sick plant” question, the Garden hosts a free Sick Plant Clinic on the first Saturday of every month.  Check our calendar.

November 14 – Trees of the UC Berkeley Campus
December 5 Evergreen Wreath & Garland Workshop 
December 6Evergreen Wreath & Garland Workshop
December 18 Conifers of the Garden Tour with Chris Carmichael 

Nature + Fauna

We offer programs year-round exploring the natural world, including many of our faunal cohabitants. At these seasonal offerings, come learn more about mushrooms, lichen, birds, newts and programs on bats and owls too.

November 1 – Talking with the Trees: John Muir’s Nature Spirituality

People + Plants

Ethnobotany is an interdisciplinary field that studies the relationship between plants and people. The Garden is ever inspired by the many incredible uses of plants around the world and strives to preserve this knowledge with a series of hands-on programming and cutting edge lectures to teach these skills.

November 4Pine Needle Basketry
December 1Botanical Perfume Gift Workshop
December 2Spice & Chai Workshop
December 9Botanical Holiday Crafts

TREES & TONES – Explore the history and sounds of wooden instrument traditions in this unique lecture and concert series

October 28 – African Blackwood – Oboes
November 4 Resonating Wood – Guitars 
November 11Wood and Gourds – Sitars & Tamburas 
November 18Pau Brasil Tree – Violin bows

Science + Research

Building on the world class research that takes place at UC Berkeley, the Garden presents work of UC faculty as well as local and international scholars.

October 4 – Soil Microbiome Panel Discussion 

Wellness + Music

Be. Here. Now. In addition to our world-class collection used by researchers and scientists, landscape architects and naturalists, the Garden, put simply, is just a beautiful place to be. To aid in cultivating mindfulness and presence, the Garden offers a new complement of programs that are designed to develop practices that inspire mind/body experiences and encourage you to be present, look more closely, and appreciate the Garden’s effect in new ways.

November 28  – Forest Bathing with Hana Lee Goldin
December 12Seasonal Wellness: Elderberry Syrup
December 19Forest Bathing with Hana Lee Goldin 
December 21Winter Solstice Sound Bath with Inner Sounds Yoga

See also “TREES & TONES” above

Past Featured Program Series

Science of Cannabis Symposium

The UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley presented a month-long series of weekly symposia on the Science of Cannabis. While the lines between the scientific and social issues surrounding Cannabis can be porous, the focus on this symposium will be to disseminate knowledge based upon scientific research. The lectures were recorded and available for you to view.

The Environmental Impact of Large Scale Cannabis Cultivation · Amanda Reiman, PhD
The Genetics of Cannabis Breeds · Mowgli Holmes, PhD
The Neuroscience of Cannabis · David Presti, PhD
The Ethnobotany of Cannabis · Thomas J. Carlson, MD/MS
Cannabis as Medicine · Donald I. Abrams, MD

Watch Lectures