Friday, March 9, 2012

Singing from the same hymn sheet

As many of you will know, I've spent much of this week singing in various performances and rehearsals. I enjoy singing in a choir - I find it very therapeutic. I think this is because it engages your whole brain.
You have to count, you have to think about pitch, you have to think about being expressive, you have to read the words and the music, you have to think about when to breathe - so there is absolutely no space left in which to stress out about whether you need to go to the supermarket, or whether you sent that email.
While I was musing about this on my way to work this morning, it also struck me that many of my fellow garden bloggers sing - or if they don't sing, they share a love of music. Was there a link, I wondered, between gardening and music? Or was it just that a lot of my garden blogging friends (those of a similar age to me) come from a generation when schools taught music properly, and communal singing (hymns at assembly and so on) was a daily occurrence?
Probably just coincidence, I decided. Then I thought about it a bit more. Hardly any of my colleagues - most of whom are at least 10 years younger than me - take part in any musical activity. I can think of only one who sings in a choir.
Yet among the bloggers I can think of quite a few - Sue Beesley, Alex Johnson, VP, for example. Nigel Colborn is a huge classical music fan.
For me, gardening is like music. I even use the same language to describe it - I like to think of planting schemes as having rhythm, form and texture. Take a look at Anne Wareham's garden at Veddw - to me, those hedges really rock. Or this landform by Charles Jencks. Or anything by Fernando Caruncho. (NB: this piece of film starts with a noisy advert.)
They remind me of a piece of Bach; it's the same marriage of order and beauty. Is it precisely that which appeals to my fellow gardeners and music-makers? Oddly enough, if you go to Fernando Caruncho's website, the first thing that greets you is a piece of Baroque piano music.
Being a lazy gardener with no design training, I often take refuge in the leitmotif approach, where the same combination of plants is repeated.
Plants are like an orchestra - there are the sonorous bass notes of deep green glossy evergreens, and the brilliant trumpet blasts of plants such as cannas and lilies. And a garden can physically make a noise, of course - the rustle of leaves, the creak of tree trunks, the humming, buzzing, tuneful chorus of insects and birds.
Gardening also reminds me of conducting - that challenge of getting everyone to come in at the right time, and at the right speed, is just like getting things to flower or fruit when you want them too. (And very often there's a lot of back-breaking work, which results in an all-too brief performance.)
What do you think? Are you a singer and a sower? Do you orchestrate your garden?


Paul Steer said...

Yes yes yes!

thinking of the days said...

oh yes, this post left my mind're right! I'd never thought about conducting an orchestra and creating a garden.

I go on gut instincts..singing and gardening both give me the feelgood factor.When I'm singing, I get the adrenalin rush that runners get...the excitement, the feelgood factor...and a sense that all is well with the world...

When I'm singing time stands still...I realise that minutes have gone past so quickly.When I'm gardening, I get lost in time, in the moment -of digging, working ,creating, and feeling that incredible connection with the earth.A definite feelgood factor too..

PS agree with you so much about choirs in schools.So inspiring....

VP said...

Having read this I can see lots of parallels between the two I'd not thought about before.

My singing activities are more to do with a life change. I signed up for my choir on the day I resigned from my last job. That's the day I started blogging too. I see them both showing I wanted to do something different with my life from now on.

I'm a bit surprised I signed up for the choir though. My previous singing in public was a disaster - me + 2 friends singing badly in front of the whole school as part of the house music competition. By house I don't mean that brand of popular music either! It was a 2 part harmony version of 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' with me singing descant and my friends singing way out of tune ;)

We got absolutely slaughtered by the adjudicator :(

Susan in the Pink Hat said...

Count me among the younger crowd who does sing and do music. I make my kids do piano and they sing in school, but that's because I made sure they went to one where music was a big deal.

Unfortunate that fewer people in the U.K. are singing since you produce the best choirs anywhere, as well as some of the best gardens.

The Constant Gardener said...

Wonderfully thoughtful post.

You are quite right about the link between gardening and music: it's one which has been exploited for some years by Tom Stuart-Smith.

His garden at Chelsea a few years ago had fountains in the water features which played Bach, I think it was; and if you go to Wisley and stand by the entrance to the glasshouse, then look from there around the sweep of the lake, the design he's made for that area is in the rhythm of a fugue.

It stands on its own as a beautiful creation: but as soon as you know it's a fugue, you look at it through entirely different eyes and it carries a far deeper level of meaning.

I sing, but mainly to myself as I can't commit to a particular evening each week to attend a choir. As soon as my kids are old enough to be left on their own, though, I shall be out there and singing my heart out along with all those other garden bloggers :D

Nell Jean said...

Nice post. I had not thought about the connection. The dog leaves when I sing. I do play the piano for congregational singing at my Church. Playing the piano and planting are my joys, but not at the same time.

Linda said...

I've discovered music through my children's music education, most joyously through the Suzuki method. I think growing things and music do call on the same instincts. It's been wonderful this year to watch my daughter, in her last year at school, create and implement a project to bring artwork and plants into the music school courtyard, and set things up so that it will continue and involve as many pupils as possible after she leaves school.

Victoria said...

Paul: Great, great, great!

Thinking of the days: I was trying to explain that adrenalin rush to someone the other day and they just gave me a funny look. But I know that other singing friends say the same - you turn up for a rehearsal feeling knackered and leave on a high. And having spent the day in the garden, I feel the same. But knackered AND on a high.

VP: That's very interesting - one of the reasons I like gardening is that it's a form of self-expression. I think that's why people resist the stylemeisters in gardening. It's their patch and it's one of the few places they can do what they jolly well like. I think the same goes for your singing. This is your chance to do it your way, without anyone else holding you back.

Susan: That's the key phrase, isn't it? You have to choose a school where music is a big deal. So did I - and the music department is fantastic. But it's such a shame not all kids get that opportunity. Here in the UK, in the state sector and therefore in the syllabuses, there is huge emphasis on broadening appeal, and not being elitist, and including ethnic music, and blah blah blah. But at least part of this is a fig-leaf to cover up the fact that funding of music teaching has been cut hugely in the past 20 years. The result is that, far from increasing access to a musical education, instrumental tuition has become a luxury. But it sounds as if you know all this, so I won't rant on!

Sally: I never knew that about Tom Stuart-Smith - thank you so much. I know exactly what you mean about time. My kids were in secondary school before I was able to find time to join a choir.

Nell Jean: I play the piano for church as well. I play for 9am Mass, so I can get in the maximum amount of gardening afterwards. I'm sure God understands when I hurtle home again on a sunny Sunday morning.

Linda: Such an interesting point. It's that combination of skills - creative, practical, emotional. What a lovely thing for your daughter to do. Good luck to her.

Clive said...

Cant get me away from the kareoke...... Im aiming for rock classics in the big borders and a bit of Kate Bush experimentation in the new bits....

Esther Montgomery said...

I used to sing. I had a good voice. When I got epilepsy, the ability to sing the right note went. I knew what note I wanted but a different one would come out. It wasn't that I was singing flat or sharp - I was singing completely and utterly wrong. It's very startling this. It's like opening your mouth to say 'hello' and finding you've said 'tomato' instead. More recently, my voice has followed suit. Maybe it's just that if you don't sing because you'll sing the wrong notes, the lack of practice destroys quality. So - I have a rubbish voice which makes the wrong noises. All in all, a distressing and disastrous state. I expect there are gardening parallels. Prickly, ugly weeds?

Victoria said...


Esther: That's so sad. I did a quick Google when I read your comment, and didn't see anything about epilepsy and the ability (or not) to sing. (In fact, I used to know a singer who had epilepsy.) But I did find forums where people were complaining about the drug Keppra making them hoarse.

Victoria said...

Clive: I'm so sorry, I forgot to paste the reply to your comment! I don't have any rock classics going on in the garden, but I feel a bit Pathetique after the first serious weekend of non-stop gardening.

wellywoman said...

I'm not a singer. I have been known to make myself wince if I do find myself singing along to the radio. I really wish I could sing and my husband tells me I'm nowhere near as bad as I think I am but I was scarred by my primary school music teacher who wouldn't let me join the choir and said I would never be a singer. I was only 8 and nearly 30 years later I still hate singing in public. I do love music though. My husband took up learning the piano 4 years ago from scratch and I'll often be in the garden with the doors open listening to him play whilst pottering with my plants.

VP said...

I've just remembered the fab public garden in Litomysyl in the Czech Republic which I fell in love with. It had a fountain with a wall nearby which had Smetana (he was born in Litomysyl) playing through speakers set in the wall. It was weird AND wonderful. I even have a little snippet of it on YouTube somewhere...

Anne Wareham said...

We have had events in the garden with music, which may be slightly different but it also always seemed to me to be a blissful combination.

And MP3 players and phones make that possible for everyone now, without intruding on other people's quiet.

Interesting thought- to accompany which garden with what music?

Sorry to come late to the feast...and thanks for kind words about the hedges!