The singing tree is a sculpture designed by Tonkin Liu for a project called the Panopticons, which includes four other large-scale public sculptures. The Mid Pennine Arts websites describes them as "designed to attract visitors into the countryside to enjoy the stunning landscapes that this delightful area has to offer. Each Panopticon is situated on a high-point site commanding spectacular views." The Singing Tree is made entirely out of galvanised steel pipes that are cut at different lengths, and placed in the direction of the most prevailing winds. It was built right in the middle of the British countryside in the Pennine Mountain Range. When the wind travels through the pipes, any number of chords can be heard. I think this is one of the most exquisite pieces of modern music I've ever heard of!
I'm sure that nothing can compare to experiencing it in person, but the video is worth the watch (the random sheep in the middle of it really takes you to the British Isles...) What a beautiful example of chance music - something we were just discussing in my recent music history lecture (John Cage etc...) The sounds out of the singing tree are probably never the same twice. It's really quite extraordinary, and requires no players, no conductor, no audience: just nature. It's so simple.
I find myself needing more simplicity in these final weeks leading up to my degree recital. It's holy week, and while I am not a church-goer, I have so enjoyed singing in the church services this year; something I've only done before at Christmas. I find the beauty and simplicity of singing choral motets in a small ensemble so deeply satisfying. The exposed harmonies, the crunchy dissonances that release at the perfect moment, the purity of the vowels and the acoustics of the sanctuaries I just came home from my last Good Friday service where I sang with Dr. Weinert's Voices ensemble. We performed some exquisite music at the Asbury Methodist Church, where I sang the Bach St. Matthew Passion last month:
Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (Schutz)
O vos omnes (Victoria)
Agnus Dei from Requiem (Faure)
Crucifixus a 6 (Lotti)
Wondrous Love (Fissinger)
What singing in church this week has reminded me of is that so much of what moves in singing is the sheer emotional power of the human voice. Such beauty of sound coming out of human instrument - it's unbelieveable. Last night I subbed for a friend at Third Presbyterian Church for their Maundy Thursday service. Bob Swensen, one of the voice teachers here at Eastman (and my teacher's husband) was singing with us. At the end of the the final scripture reading, all of the lights went out in the santuary until there was total darkness. I've never been in a church where this has been done before. Then, Professor Swensen stood up and sang the hymn "Were you there". If you don't know it (I didn't before last night), it's a hauntingly beautiful, simple spiritual tune. He was standing directly behind me, and the moment he began to sing, tears immediately started streaming down my face. I couldn't stop them or even try to control them. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the sound and the color of his voice as he sang the text. It didn't even matter that I wasn't at the service last night to worship - the singing is what brings me to that place of total meditation and quiet.
I imagine that if I ever get the opportunity to visit the singing tree in person, I will have a similar experience. These moments are rare, but when they do happen, it's the best cry I've ever had.