Friday, December 16, 2011

The music weaver

Imagine in three dimensions, with texture and pulse
I often visualise sounds as shapes. I'm not sure I can explain it in words, but a certain tone of voice, or the sound of an instrument, will give me a sense of shape - like a flowing, fluid metal in a particular width and form. It's not sinesthesia (though I do sometimes dream where my perceptions confuse in this way, which is most peculiar), but more a way of feeling how the sound connects with me. Perhaps even with my very molecules.

Last night I went with friends to the chilly Fitzwilliam Museum. On a December evening, with the threat promised of snow hidden by the cold rain, we joined perhaps a hundred others in Gallery 3. Up the magnificent staircase, with the beautiful dome above us, the sumptuous surroundings were chill.

Once seated and settled, the crowd (mostly senior, but with an eclectic mix that is so typical of Cambridge), we applauded as the Granta Chorale entered and took their places, ready to regale us with Christmas music. Gaudete, with a smart percussion accompaniment from the conductress, lifted the room with its strident time signature and tight harmonies. A nice start to the evening.

Her hands now free of her small tambourine tabor, the conductress orchestrated the singers as they offered renditions of Christmas music new and old, English, European and American. She took the music as it spun from the singers and - her hands dancing and manipulating the sounds in the air - she wove it's complex patterns and then released it to us, moulded and melded.

If you can imagine someone teasing clouds with their fingers, taking those insubstantial wisps of sound and weaving them into complex and beautiful patterns, then you can perhaps imagine how it seemed to me. The singers provided the thread, and she took each colourful note and created the skein that we wrapped about our senses. Oh yes, one or two cords snagged, but on the whole we were draped in a beautiful blanket of sound.

I looked up to the angels above us - perhaps enjoying their names being sung in praise within their frigid home up in the rooftop. Cold marble, dusty and dry, eyes unseeing and unseeable. Around us the portraits seemed to smile, attentively, joining us as audience for the evening. Even the horseman in his bold red coat seemed to pause, and listen to us through the window of his gilt frame.

For one day, they stopped. Just one day.
Further entertainment was provided with two non-musical interludes - John Betjeman's poem Christmas - performed not just recited. And later in the evening, readings from the letters of servicemen from the 1914 Christmas truce. Tears in my eyes at the beauty of the words, simply said, written so long ago by men who had seen such horror, and yet could share such moments of humanity and move us still.

Join us and sing, Silent Night, in German and English. A single Carol, that had united two warring forces. For just a day. The audience raised it's voice to join the choir, and the conductress turned her skills upon us.

Light and careless almost, the last songs were mirthful and bright. Jingle bells adding that seasonal spice, like cinnamon.

At the end of the evening I had simply attended a rather nice concert, with a good choir, in a beautiful setting. But I had also seen a little bit of magic in a pair of hands.

Soundwaves image- borrowed from http://www.sonicmusicproduction.com/
WWI Photograph - found on the web, no original credit known

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