by Harry Perrin
As well as walking and general 'flânerie', Harry is interested in the arts, heritage and education, and worked in these sectors before moving into the law several years ago. He has written for newspapers, journals, and blogs, and is also a keen musician and singer.
I’m walking round a beautiful lake. It’s a short drive from my house. I work as a lawyer and I sit at a computer all day so I like to come here sometimes after work. The sun is low in the sky and the light is bright as it hits the water and the leaves on the trees. There’s gravel under foot, and in some places along the route, the forest floor.
I like walking round the lake because I don’t have to think about the route. I just walk around it and I’m free to reflect on other things. I can’t get lost. Not in a navigational sense anyway.
I’m thinking about music as I walk. Plans and ambitions; chords and cadences, fragments of lyrics I’ve not quite remembered. Then there are those musical ideas which seem to blend into my movement. Andante, ascending, descending, a march. Some of these terms come from how a piece was originally composed and performed, for a dance or for the military, but movement metaphors have stuck because they resonate so strongly with the musician’s experience.
Now I’m back home and I’m speaking on Zoom with a new acquaintance, Stephen, a famous film score composer. We both do some pro bono work for a charity and he’s keen to get to know his fellow team members. He’s asking me about what I’ve studied in the past and what my interests are. I mention modern architecture and I mention music. Stephen loves both, and this is common ground. He tells me he sometimes recounts to students a time he was walking along the seafront in California – he lives in America – and was taking in a row of modernist buildings. Some completed, some empty plots, some part-constructed. Form and void. Form and void. He asked his students how this might invite them to think differently about music. The answer he was driving them towards in his Socratic way was that music is not so much the notes themselves, but the spaces between the notes. Stephen’s experience is that architecture, particularly modernist architecture, works in the same way. Modernist architecture with its proliferation of large, geometric forms. The forms get their power from the spaces they leave empty around them.
Stephen is perhaps paraphrasing Debussy’s “Music is the space between the notes”, but he is making another point as well, which piques my interest. It is not just moving through a natural environment, walking round a lake, which is aligned with music. It also applies to moving through the built environment. Not every song is a pastorale after all. Sometimes it’s a Rhapsody In Blue or a Leonard Bernstein. Music has bridges and beams; steps and slides.
I think back to modernist buildings I’ve loved, I’ve moved in, I’ve worked in. I’m in Evans and Shalev’s law courts in Truro. I’m a junior solicitor and I’m waiting in the lobby for my client to arrive, for the other side to arrive, for the case to be called. The masonry is white and grey in the Corbusian tradition, pebble-dashed on the outside, smooth on the inside, but uniform across large expanses. There are circular windows and cylindrical pillars. There are ramps and white railings, another common modernist feature taking its cue from ocean liners. It’s very Cornish.
I take instructions from my client, as lawyers do, standing in the lobby with my file perched on a large cylindrical column. It’s a functional feature. I wait for my colleague to finish wandering around the enclosed courtyard, collecting his thoughts and finishing his smoke. That too is a functional space. We duck quietly but urgently into a side room to negotiate a settlement with the other side.
These are spaces we can move through, which encourage reflection and contemplation. The chatter and dance, the bluster and show, of the preliminary correspondence has fallen away. These are the spaces between the notes, where the real work is done. We draft a settlement, tell the judge, and go home.
I'm taking singing lessons at the moment and one of the things I find challenging is managing my breath over long phrases and engaging my ‘support’. They’re related. If a note is ‘unsupported’, it’s as though the singer hasn’t got the breath to sustain it with any sort of consistent tone or quality. I’m singing an arpeggio, though, and for the first time I get the sense of the phrase running away with me. My stomach is moving in, the sung phrase is coming out, I have no sense that the breath isn’t there, just that the phrase will continue and ultimately finish. I’m not really doing anything. It’s just happening.
Like walking round a lake without having to worry about navigation.
Or working in a building which guides you how to use its space.