The surprising joy of street furniture

Hello from the Divertimento String Quartet bunker.  We very much hope that our friends and followers are keeping well amidst the current restrictions and difficulties.

We are planning on a return to concert giving as soon as we possibly can – hopefully in May.  Details will be announced soon.  We are very much looking forward to performing Shostakovich’s 3rd quartet and Mozart’s K.464.

The insularity of lockdown is challenging in several ways.  I would however like to highlight a curious symptom of lockdown that is rarely if ever discussed, which is a shame because it has the potential to bring much benefit to our experience of lockdown.  I am sure it is something that many of you will have noticed; namely an increased awareness of sounds.

Sometimes a sound that would have gone unnoticed before comes to the fore in a surprisingly vivid way. I have found myself being enthralled, amused, bemused and amazed by such sounds, many of which are very quiet.  Often they are completely new and original.   Even something as mundane as pulling tea bags out of a shelf becomes a remarkable sonic event:

I have discovered the surprising joy of street telecommunications furniture.  Out walking along a street normally plagued by a stream of noisy cars but becalmed in lockdown, I became aware of a hum emanating from this box:

(Please note the other piece of street ‘furniture’ here, which it has to be said is a load of rubbish in comparison.)

And here is the veritable symphony of sound that I heard – headphone listening is advisable for full enjoyment:

Yes, it is a very quiet symphony but none the worse for that.

Some sounds have arisen during the routines in lockdown. I will let you guess what this is.

Several composers have incorporated the sounds of everyday life in their compositions, from Bach’s donkey in Cantata BWV 201 (audible around 2:00 in this recording) to the inclusion of recordings of birds in Rautavaara’s Concerto for Birds and Orchestra “Cantus Arcticus” .  I also recall the very effective inclusion of children’s voices in Supertramp’s ‘School’ .

There are without doubt countless other examples in classical and popular music, and who knows what everyday sounds percolate into music, unknown to both composer and listener.  Please feel free to comment with your own favourite examples of everyday sounds in music and add links if possible.

The sounds that we hear in lockdown can intrigue and entertain us, for sure. They don’t need to be translated into a formal musical context to become meaningful. They draw us into a fascinated contemplation of the phenomenon of their existence and of our perception of their existence.

It is now just under a year since we posted an arrangement of a Bach prelude for violin and viola during the first lockdown. It seems appropriate to add another one during the current lockdown and we hope that you enjoy it. It is a cliché to say it, but it’s true: Bach’s music is timeless, ceaselessly flowing like his name. (Bach = brook or stream in German). Of all composers he is arguably the most cosmic – and yet he could also revel in the comic braying of a donkey. The mundane can also be priceless.

Warmest wishes to you from Andrew, Lindsay, Vicky & Mary

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