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The May Tree


The May Tree - This post is a mashup of anecdote, memoir, and selected prose from Richard Jefferies and W H Hudson, illustrated with seasonal atmospheric soundscapes. Join me for a day, if you will in a celebration of nature’s symphony ...


May - a month when, Spring blends into Summer - the dark days of Winter forgotten - we celebrate nature’s symphony: the first Sunday of May - International Dawn Chorus Day.

Before Dawn

As the sun warms the earth and days get longer; the May blossom like drifts of snow along the hedgerow; birdsong fills the early mornings in the ‘Great Chorus’ as Edward Grey called it.

A mono recording of a Friday morning dawn chorus, 5 a.m. Downloaded from under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (Credit:Nebulousflynn)

The Song Thrush strikes up well before dawn, though in this clip it’s the Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Great Tit and Wren who feature most strongly with an occasional Chaffinch.

Soon he is followed by the Robin, Blackbird, Wren, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff, Hedge Sparrow and Chaffinch. There is no fixed order in which each species takes its cue from the eastern sky, but there is a genuine tendency for some to start earlier than others. Indeed Wren, Robin, Song Thrush and Blackbird often burst into song well before daybreak.
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Dawn breaks ...

Yellow is the colour of my true love’s hair In the mornin’ when we rise In the mornin’ when we rise That’s the time, that’s the time … – Donovan Colours 1965.

Everything is yellow ... a yellow wash laid down before the Artists’ brush picks out the trees, hedges and fields in verdant green. Even the birds - Yellowhammer, Yellow Wagtail, and Goldfinch - shine with a light so bright they seem illuminated from within, each bird aglow with a beautiful and brilliant, yet soft, yellow, pleasantly shaded with green, brown, and cinnamon; and whose colour, like that of the wild flowers and the sky, has never faded from memory.

The sound of many birds singing comes from the hedge across the meadow;…finches and linnets, thrush and chiff-chaff, wren and whitethroat, and others farther away, whose louder notes only reach. The singing is so mixed and interwoven, and is made of so many notes, it seems as if it were the leaves singing—the countless leaves—as if they had voices.

In ‘The Hills and Vale’ Richard Jefferies
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Lazy Sunday Afternoon ...

Lazy Sunday afternoon, I've got no mind to worry, close my eyes and Drift away, Close my eyes and drift away ... The Small Faces

The grass stood high above me, and the shadows of the tree-branches danced on my face. I looked up at the sky, with half-closed eyes to bear the dazzling light. Bees buzzed over me, sometimes a butterfly passed, there was a hum in the air ... The Story of My Heart

Here is a rather loud Field recording of British countryside in summer time. You will need to turn your volume down a tad to hear it to best advantage. Above the sound of sheep and summer hum you can hear Willow Warbler, Jackdaw, Pheasant and Wren. Recording taken near Allendale Common in Northern England. Downloaded from under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (Credit:bulz)

Close my eyes and drift away ...

….. listening to the goldfinches ...; listening to the swallows as they twitter past ... the chaffinches ‘chink, chink;’ thrushes, and distant blackbirds in the oaks; ‘cuckoo, cuckoo;’ `crake, crake;’ buzzing and burring of bees, coo of turtle-doves, now and then a neigh to remind you that there are horses, fulness and richness of musical sound; a world of grass and leaf, humming like a hive with voices ….

27 August 1887 The Spectator

Time means nothing – the sun moves across the sky – still I’m lying here in the grass at one with the mead – the sun and sky. I live through the trees, the grass; the earth itself bears me up ...

... The wind in the tree-tops overhead sighs in soft music, and ever ... the clouds go by in rhythmic motion ... the fervour of the sunbeams descending in a tidal flood rings on the strung harp of earth. It is this exquisite undertone, heard and yet unheard, which brings the mind into sweet accordance with the wonderful instrument of nature ... A Yellowhammer has just flown from a bare branch in the gateway, where he has been perched and singing a full hour. Presently he will commence again, and as the sun declines will sing him to the horizon, and then again sing till nearly dusk. The Yellowhammer is almost the longest of all the singers; he sits and sits and has no inclination to move. In the spring he sings, in the summer he sings, and he continues when the last sheaves are being carried from the wheat field ... The Life of the Fields - The Pageant of Summer.
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The End of the Day ...

In the evening the hills glow golden brown in the last rays of the setting sun; there rises a loud though distant clamour of Rook and ‘Daws, who have restlessly moved in their roost-trees. Darkness is almost on them, yet they cannot quite settle. A Cuckoo calls echoing the silence; the wood is silent, and it is suddenly night. A Nightingale sings ...

Cuckoo & Nightingale singing in the early hours of twilight...

You can hear other bird sounds in the background, other nightingales as well as thrushes & crows. May 2010.

Downloaded from under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (Credit:Vonora)

The twinkling of distant cottage lights appear one by one on the hillsides like yellow stars, fallen from the violet, not-quite-black sky. Looking up a single brilliant diamond white star appears – the woods and fields are sleeping now, the earth slumbers. A full moon rises in the inky black of the night.

Listening, thinking of nothing, simply living in the sound of night – the life and intelligence inherent in nature; it grows upon the mind. I have sometimes thought that never does the world seem more alive and watchful of us than on a still, moonlight night, when the dusky green foliage of the trees in the nearby woods are silvered by the beams, and all visible objects and the white lights and black shadows in the intervening spaces seem instinct with spirit.

… After W H Hudson (Birds and Man – 1915)
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Shadows of light - Dawn approaches ...

I open the door on a new day - the pale moon hangs above the old hill-fort - a Tawny Owl hoots from the woods below; a Mistle Thrush sings lustily from the Churchyard Yews; and a Robin from the garden Hazel ...

A pale cerulean-blue sky – crisscrossed with misty white vapour trails of planes – a modern art canvas; paint casually, thrown from the artists brush; white clouds tinged salmon-pink hanging over the blue-grey hills; just before sunrise – white wreaths of mist lingering over the fields mirroring the vapour trails above. A lone Buzzard calls.
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And Now for Something Completely Different ...

Take a moment - chill - and listen to the following audio clip from YouTube of Olivier Messiaen’s Réveil des Oiseaux (Awakening of the Birds) - preceded by a description by Alexander Carpenter.

Or perhaps orchestrate your own Dawn Chorus.

But first perhaps a health warning - a classic piece for the piano - it may not be to everybody’s liking; but go on listen anyway ...

Réveil des Oiseaux (Awakening of the Birds) for piano and orchestra, along with Catalogue des oiseaux (Catalogue of the Birds) and Oiseaux exotiques (Exotic Birds), exemplifies Messiaen's fascination with birdsong. Réveil des oiseaux was the first of this threesome, and represented a major stylistic shift for the composer. For Messiaen, birdsong was a way to return to nature, to enliven his musical language and restore to it a freedom that he felt it had lacked. The piece contains no Eastern rhythmic patterns or meters, and none of Messiaen¹s famous "modes of limited transposition"; instead, there is a return to what Malcolm Trout describes as a "world of pure chromaticisim."

The work contains the songs of no fewer than thirty-eight species of birds. The texture of the work is mostly polyphonic, and occasionally monodic, abandoning the dense and colorful harmonies of Messiaen's earlier works in favor of parallel octaves and chords. Typical of Messiaen, however, is the pervasive repetition in the piece, inspired by the nature of birdsong. The melodic complexity of the piece, arising though the combination and juxtaposition of diverse birdcalls, is checked by the use of pitch centers, which assist in orienting the ear.



Published on 19 Feb 2012Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992): Réveil des Oiseaux, per pianoforte e orchestra (1953).

Yvonne Loriod, pianoforte
SWF-Sinfonieorchester Baden Baden diretta da Hans Rosbaud.

(Registrazione effettuata l'11.10.1953).

Cover image: Max Ernst - Trois Oiseaux

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