Caught by the River

Blessed Birdsong

9th March 2013

by Katy Tokus.

As I cycled up to Schumacher College for the first time, I felt blessed to be commuting along the riverside path that accompanies The Dart.

Blessed again to see balaclava-faced goldfinches fly up from the floor. Treble-blessed to watch seagulls divebombing an unfamiliar river visitor: a red-headed duck or grebe too far away and much too difficult for this Young Ornithologist Club member (1978) to identify.

Blackbirds, thrushes, robins, tits – all got out of the way of my tyres, then fluttered back to their post-Imbolc nest-work in the tepid sunshine while I rolled on towards an appointment with my pal and musical director Andy Williamson.

He was enjoying the fruits of a workshop-swap, trading his skills as a choirmaster at Embercombe holistic social enterprise for a week of the Mind In Nature course at Schumacher. I was bunking in to the college to receive a few hours’ of arranging so that my leadsheets are tip-top for a show in San Diego in May.

He told me over coffee how he’d been enjoying his week, called The Music of Nature, led by the guy who improvised with birds in zoos.

Marcus Coates – Dawn Chorus from birds and music on Vimeo.

The guy who appeared as the song thrush in Marcus Coates’ movie Dawn Chorus (where early-morning human workers learnt slowed-down bird calls, so that when played in humantime they seemed to sing perfect songbird notes).

What, that guy? I said. That guy whose beautiful work struck such a chord in my mind. Whose work I bothered to recall every so often. That guy’s here?

Right here, said Andy as he introduced me to David Rothenberg. Quadruple blessed.

Quintuple blessed when we found out we had a connection via Moby Dick The Big Read (me, Chapter 13; he who sat in with whales on an underwater clarinet improv, Chapter 79)

Really bloody blessed when it arose that David was performing a gig that night at Schumacher.

For the show, David used his clarinet, his Norwegian baritone flute, his whisper, his work with Pete Seeger, his laptop and midi keyboard with an octaver and delays and the slowed-down songs of the nightingale, of the Albert’s lyrebird, the orca and the 17-year cicada (due out of its lengthy hibernation in the Hudson River Valley THIS very year).

David is the first interspecies musician I’ve seen up close in my own habitat. He’s a rare and exotic creature. And I was blessed to hear his song.