Friday, 8 November 2019

...And The Nightingales Sing

This morning when I clicked on my Blogger Reading List I found that Robin Andrea, over on New Dharma Bums, had posted a music video, the start of a series aimed at introducing readers to the music she and Roger like to listen to. And would we like to share some of our favourite music?

One aspect of my life which I haven't written much about are the concerts at The Junction in Cambridge which I go to. One is asked not to take photos and in the intimate atmosphere of the J2 concert space I wouldn't really want to. At the strange and wonderful event that I went to back in May there was hardly enough light in the venue either.

We entered in subdued light with gentle green lights playing on the performance space. The sounds of evening birdsong floated on the air and hushed the usually talkative audience. After a while a tall, carelessly dressed young man appeared from the shadows - the English folksinger, Sam Lee. He immediately silenced the first signs of applause with a finger to his lips. 

He explained that the birdsong we'd been listening to was being beamed live from woodland deep in the English countryside. Last spring Sam had been leading groups of people into those woods in darkness to hear the song of the Nightingale and to quietly sing folksongs, many of which make mention of the bird. Now he was attempting to bring the experience to audiences in small venues across the land.

In case you don't know here's what the Nightingale sounds like (turn it up Nightingales are LOUD):

You can leave it playing if you like, that's what I'm doing as I write this.

Sam meandered in relaxed fashion through stories and anecdotes about nightingales, including Beatrice Harrison's historic performance of cello pieces along with singing nightingale in a Surrey garden in 1924, the first live broadcast of wildlife by the BBC. Sadly he also had to tell us of the decreasing numbers of Nightingales in Britain in recent years. He asked how many of us had heard them singing in the countryside and seemed surprised that most of the audience had - all of us at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, though there are less of them there than in former years.

In between talking he also sang us some of the old songs, either unaccompanied or very sparsely accompanied, in his easy, tuneful style. Like the Nightingale Sam Lee is unafraid to use the silences in the song. 

Later in the evening he recieved a phone call (his phone on silent mode, of couse) from his sound recordist out in the woods to tell him that the Nightingales had commenced their nighttime song. By the wonders of technology we were able to listen in as Sam sang and his two musicians improvised along with the singing birds.

The evening came to an end with the human performers withdrawing quietly while the audience continued to listen to the birdsong coming in from the darkness. An unforgettable and unrepeatable evening.

There are some videos on YouTube that attempt to convey some of the magic but they fall short of doing it justice. We can however enjoy Sam Lee's honest and sensitive singing as he records the song Lovely Molly along with the Roundhouse Choir. 

I hope some of you enjoyed that.

Take care.


  1. What an incredible experience John, I would have loved that. I wake up every morning at sunup to the sound of birds also waking up in the trees around my house. It's a wonderful way to start the day 💙

  2. Perhaps the most vaunted song of all but eclipsed by the Blackbird in my opinion. It is all a matter of judgement and taste, of course, as it is for music.

  3. I loved it. Thanks for the sharing, both bird and song. Really took my time from my life and set me down in yours for a moment.

  4. Thank you so much for this. I loved hearing Sam Lee's voice. It is so beautiful and evocative. I've never heard a Nightingale before, what a wonderful song that is as well.

  5. What an experience, John. I would have enjoyed that very much--making it about the birdsongs and nature, and less about the performers is really similar to what I like and strive for in storytellng--to make what I do, ballads or stories, be about the story and the audience, not about me.

  6. What an enchanting idea John - I have never heard a Nightingale in real life. I did once go where there was reputed tobe one which sang but not the night i was there sadly.

  7. What a great video. The bird knows singing. :)

  8. Yes, the nightingale is quite vocal!

  9. a remarkable and unusual concert - I would have loved to experience it. Sam's creative spirit is bringing awe and joy to the world. I immediately thought of this:

    Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day.
    It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
    That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.
    Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree.
    Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.

    Thanks, John.

  10. The man’s voice is beautiful and the bird’s is too. What a great combination and how unique. It must have been an interesting and even touching experience. Thank you for sharing.

  11. I've never heard a nightingale sing so it's new to me. Nightingales are in many stories.

  12. What a wonderful evening. We both enjoyed hearing the Nightingale as well as Sam Lee. I start the day listening to the local birdsong. There is also the song of a bird played just before the 7 a.m. news (a different bird every day)

  13. Hi John - amazing ... so glad I kept to listen to. They're trying to protect a nightingale known area in Kent - so I hope they and you succeed ... cheers Hilary


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