I happened to see an email from Tower Hamlets Council asking residents to contribute to a recording, A Nightingale Sang in Pollard Square, run by Sam Lee of the Nest Collective. Every year Sam Lee records nightingales – which only sing between April and May in the UK – at night with the help of other singers and artists.
I wanted to write something for this performance (which was part of the celebration of St George’s Day in the borough) and was inspired by the fairy tale, The Nightingale, written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen about an Emperor who prefers the tinkling of a bejewelled mechanical bird to the song of a real nightingale. When the Emperor is near death, the nightingale’s song restores his health.
So many of us, including myself, have taken so much comfort from nature, including the birdsong we could suddenly hear, during the pandemic. The story of the nightingale that could heal the dying man is very relevant to us all in these strange times.
I tried to think of a way to retell this old fairy tale while reading about nightingales – which are now on the Red List – and ended up with a different idea: a nightingale in a museum, a holographic representation of the real thing, telling us how it became extinct. We need to save these amazing birds so that we are not left only with mechanical nightingales instead of the real thing.
You can hear my recorded piece just after the beginning of the video, and I’m honoured to be part of this beautiful recording.