Thursday, 12 February 2009

Of birds and Bach

What's your favourite sound? I have many and would have found that a very difficult question to answer until some years ago when something very pleasant, but completely unexpected, happened. At the time I was working in a number of schools in Norwich and Norfolk and spending far too long in my car driving between them. The car was not a great place to be and this was largely because it was filled with the sound of its driver cursing other road users for clogging up the roads. One day I was looking for something on the radio to take my mind off yet another stressful journey when I came across a station broadcasting birdsong. It turned out that the soon-to-be-launched Classic FM was using the sounds of birds for the purpose of testing its signal.

I was reminded of this when I woke this morning. Although I live close to the city centre my bedroom looks out over the well established gardens of large Victorian houses. The trees are many and various making for a habitat that supports a respectable population of birds. I've seen plenty of sparrows, robins, blackbirds and blue-tits as well as woodpeckers, magpies, pigeons and collared doves. A heron visits occasionally, to clear urban ponds of fish, along with a raptor of some kind that I'm told is after the pigeons.

As the dark and dreary winter drags on, one compensation is that one does not need to rise very early in order to hear the dawn chorus. But a city dawn chorus in February is no substitute for a forest in June, however leafy the streets and gardens. When I was studying for a diploma I was required to harmonise Bach chorals from which one or more parts had been removed. (It's a kind of Sudoku for musical theorists - puzzling, satisfying when completed and there's a vague hope that it's doing some good.) Like those incomplete chorals February's dawn chorus seems too thin, missing the parts played by birds holidaying elsewhere and lacking the majestic fullness of sound that a bigger population would provide. Roll on summer and holidays out of town.

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