A Choral Feast.
At Christmas we went to a (socially distanced) concert in Hereford Cathedral. We are great fans of small choirs who sing Renaissance, Baroque and modern choral music: in this case it was Ex Cathedra. And part of the beauty of the experience is the places these choirs perform in, which are usually cathedrals. So, there is a combination of architectural delight, statues, memorials, history and glorious music. A saturation of pleasure and interest.
I’m afraid that I was a little distracted that night, thinking about the things this experience shares with a garden which is open to the public.
A Unique Occasion.
The music was performed in this way, by these particular people, with their own individual interpretations of the pieces, just for this occasion. It was fleeting, just as flowers are in a garden. The cathedral provided a magnificent historic setting for this small moment, just as the garden provides the setting for plants and flowers.
People will insist on saying that gardens can’t be art, because they are constantly changing. Well, indeed, so is music. Last night we heard unfamiliar arrangements of pieces we were very familiar with and this is quite usual. The performers and the conductor themselves bring changes and this is why people will pay great sums of money and travel miles to hear particular singers and musicians. The performance we heard will never be heard again.
I am a very ignorant concert goer. I recently heard one of the conductors of such a choir discussing the music – the composer, the setting, the particular performance and the place these pieces had in the development of the religious choral tradition, and then – just why they work so well.
I was confronted by my absolute ignorance and I knew just how much more pleasure I could get if I learnt more and, indeed, listened more. But I still get great pleasure from my ignorant listening.
Music – and Gardens?
One of the joys of both music and a garden may be, then, that they can both be appreciated by someone who knows nothing about them. And no doubt appreciated infinitely more by someone who has learned about them in depth. And perhaps both are worth learning about in depth?
But one thing is dramatically different between music and gardens.
I don’t think many people think that only musicians can enjoy and appreciate music. I think it’s generally believed that everyone can enjoy music. Different kinds of music, perhaps, but listening to it is not confined to musicians. How absurd would that be?
However, no-one seems to believe anyone but a gardener can enjoy and appreciate a garden. Our visitors are 98% gardeners, and the remaining 2% are usually a reluctant spouse or child. I find this extraordinary.
British gardens were once seen as one of the major art forms, worthy of anyone’s attention. What on earth happened?
And it’s worse than this. Gardeners are full of preoccupations which bluntly have very little to do with what we are aiming to achieve in the garden. They may be interested in weeds, and whether we use weed killer, they want to know about how we cut the hedges, they sometimes like horrible neat lawn edging and general neat and tidiness. They look down perhaps more than up. They are very good at plant spotting and are often devastated that we don’t do teas.
When visitors come politely to thank us for their visit they will usually say ‘lovely garden, what’s that plant?’ Perhaps people would visit an art gallery to discover just what was that blue paint that Monet was using?
However, sometimes there is a ray of light. Carolyn Mullet has just published ‘Adventures in Eden’ and in her introduction she says ‘..I believe that gardens are cultural expressions worthy of attention just like painting, sculpture, theatre and music..’
But does that mean we will ever have painters, sculptors, actors and musicians visit the garden? Or will they read Carolyn’s book? Maybe even those people who believe they aren’t interested in gardens might read or visit? Unlikely. What would it take for them to come or read such a book?
Are our gardens actually still worthy of such attention, as Carolyn clearly believes they are?