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For thousands of years people have celebrated Nightingale Song, and some have sung with the birds. Indeed a few can actually sing like a bird and sometimes, the birds sing back. Many more have sung songs about Nightingales. What better way to recognize the worth of these wonderful birds ?
Ziazan the Suffolk Nightingale
Ziazan is a musician and singer who lives in Suffolk and who sings about Nightingales, with Nightingales and sometimes, like a Nightingale. Here’s a traditional English folk song about Nightingales The Birds in Spring performed by Ziazan with accompaniment from a Suffolk Nightingale.
Le Rossignol et la Rose or ‘The nightingale and the rose’ was written by Saint-Saens. Singing and harp by Ziazan, arrangement by Ziazan:
Ziazan listens to Nightingales singing near her home and says:
“I like the fact that nightingales only sing for a short time each year and in quiet, hidden places, because it makes it all the more special to happen to hear one. As they are usually the only birds still singing through the night they create quite a mysterious feeling and make the silence between their bursts of song even deeper. It’s a different experience from hearing any other bird”.
“For years I have been reconstructing a lost singing technique called bel canto that allows a singer to imitate bird song (amongst other things). The nightingale has had more songs written about it than any other bird that I know of, so it seemed to me a perfect opportunity to begin a project that makes use of the unique technique I have learned while celebrating the long reigning King of Song. I was fortunate to grow up in an area full of singing nightingales and always looked forward to their return in Spring. But nightingale song is these days is almost as rare a sound as the lost technique that I am trying to save from extinction. I hope they will both find new audiences in the Nightingale Nights project and give many more people the chance to experience the magic of the little bird that has inspired so much art and so much artistry”.
Another Ziazan song ‘The First Day of Spring’ here.
Janet and The Nightingale
On May 19 2014 violinist Janet Welsh, sound recordist Dylan Roys and David McSherry a lecturer in audio production at the University of Lincoln, made this recording of a Nightingale singing at Whisby Nature Park in Lincolnshire. Janet played the Londonderry Air, the same song that Beatrice Harrsion performed in the BBC’s first ever Outside Broadcast back in 1924, wgen over a million people tuned in to hear her and a Surrey Nightingale.
Whisby was one of Britain’s most northerly places where you could still gear Nightingales in 2014 and is near Lincoln. As David explained:
As dusk fell, Grahame Hopwood, our expert guide and one of Whisby’s wardens, attuned our ears to the song of the nightingale amongst the many other voices of blackcap, whitethroat and robin.
With our avian talent spotted and in full song, Janet began to play the tune Londonderry Air, just as Beatrice Harrison had done 90 years earlier. Dylan and I captured the beautiful duet with our modern hand-held recorders as trains whizzed by and jumbo jets cruised overhead.
The recordings reflect the massive changes in our sonic landscape since 1924. Grahame chatted to us about the dwindling numbers of nightingales visiting Britain due to changes in their landscape and habitat too. However, the nightingale’s song remains as beautiful now as it did then.
(Below David left, Dylan and Janet)
The recording featured on both BBC Radio Lincolnshire and Siren FM. Listen here.
The BBC’s First Outside Broadcast – Nightingale and Cello
At midnight on 19th May 1924 a million people tuned in to BBC radio to hear the first ever live Outside Broadcast, which was also the first ever live broadcast of a wild creature. It was of a Nightingale singing in a Surrey wood (at Oxted) as cellist Beatrice Harrison played music. 50,000 people were so moved that they wrote letters in response. It became an annual BBC tradition – until World War II in 1942.
You can hear a 2014 BBC programme about it by folk singer Sam Lee including Harrison speaking, and folksong here. In it, with cellist Francesca Ter-Berg, violinist Flora Curzon and viola player Laurel Pardue, Sam sings songs that feature Nightingales, such as ‘The Tan Yard Side’, to the Nightingales as they sing.
In 1942 the BBC’s hugely popular ‘Midnight Nightingale Broadcasts’ were brought to an abrupt end when an engineer realized that they were about to broadcast the background sound of RAF bombers massing overhead, before setting off to strike Germany. So he pulled the plug.
You can hear the evocative, liquid song of that lone, long-dead Nightingale from 1942, with the drone of bombers in the background, in the video above. It was recorded but never broadcast. Now it’s time for the BBC to re-start the tradition, not to run a campaign but to enrich our quality of life, to give listeners the chance to hear a real, live Nightingale signing, if only once a year.
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