On the day Tathra burned I drove 30 kilometres through high wind, flying branches and swirling leaves. I didn’t know that just to the south people’s lives were being overturned, and their mementoes turned to ash. There was thickness in the air, but people were saying “Sea mist” when in fact it was smoke. I was doing what we do all the time. Going about my pleasures oblivious to the agony of others.
My pleasure on this occasion was music, the Three Piece Suite (Rachel Westwood, violin; Valmai Coggins, viola; and Deborah Coogan, cello), joined on this occasion by tenor David Hamilton. The venue was Moruya Anglican Church, a much humbler building than All Saints, Bodalla. It too has a meditation maze, this one shaped by the mowing of grass.
I was, as I always am, early, and this time, as it usually does, early paid dividends. It gave me time to scrutinise the stained glass windows. To my left were the usual saints, but to my right a memorial window that represented our landscape: at the top the coastline – mountains, sea and dunes and a couple of rosellas in flight; in the middle, a lagoon – swans flying above, bulrushes, white flowers on reedy stalks, waterlilies, and the iridescent blue of a pair of moorhens; on the sandy edge with subtle shadows, wood-ducks; and beneath them brown birds with white throats and white chests and a band of running postman. The caption is Consider the birds and the lilies of the field. That was delight enough, but the next window across, above the caption The sower went forth to sow, featured a man on a tractor. I liked this church.
However, the post is supposed to be about music, not contemporary stained glass windows with local themes.
It was ironic that a program of music from the lands of the Northern Lights should be played in 37.5° heat. The program notes detailed different stories accounting for the Lights display. In Finland a fox is running so fast that his tail causes sparks that rise into the sky. In Scotland they are called Merry Dancers or Nimble Men.
Yes, I am avoiding the musical bit, because what can words say about music? And even more what can an unmusical person say about music?
The first half was lively: a Polka medley, a Swedish medley (the title of one piece was translated as “aspirational bogan”), a couple of pieces by Elgar, and a piece from an unpublished string trio by Erkki Malartin. At this point a light tenor voice began singing at the back of the church, and moved down the aisle: David Hamilton, dressed in kilt, sporran, shoes with straps winding up his calf over knee-high cream socks, singing Scottish folksongs of love and loyalty, including Loch Lomond and Charlie is my darling. The second half was more difficult because it was completely unfamiliar: String trio in C minor by Herman Berens. The concert ended with another bracket of songs, this time by Robbie Burns, with the help of a Bodhrán (supplied by Opera Australia orchestra) and a tin whistle. I first encountered a bodhrán many years ago, played by an Irishman at music days I used to go to in the bush way out beyond Nerrigundah.
It occurred to me as I was driving home that I like my music virtuoso and perhaps a bit overdone. This performance was subtle, understated, rather than dramatic. It also occurred to me that the acoustics at All Saints Bodalla might have had a lot to do with the sense of energy I felt was missing from this one..
By now the wind had dropped, but not before fire had destroyed sixty-nine houses in Tathra.