Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Birds and People

Many years ago, in a youthful flush of enthusiasm I went out for a  early morning run in the neighbourhood of my college. Dropping down a hill  at the edge of a wood I met a Barn Owl. I think we surprised each other, for he turned to look at me in the exactly the manner captured by David Tipling's beautiful image here. I've been a Barn Owl fan ever since and still remember the electricity of that moment.

On Monday , at the invitation of friends we went to hear Mark Cocker speak at our local bird club. Coincidentally it was the second time I have heard him speak in the last two weeks.  He is a great speaker. He has a slow warm-up, seemingly hesitant and slightly academic, until adrenalin and enthusiasm start to kick in and he builds to a climax of superlatives. For those who don't know his work he's a naturalist with an artist's heart. The title of his soon-to-be-published (2013) Birds and People simply expresses the thrust of his work, the vital importance of the relationship between humans and the natural world.

Photo: Geograph
It was all pretty low-tech - a stage, a lectern and a handful of slides. But a salutary reminder that a knowledgeable, empassioned speaker is a thing well worth going out for on a wet and windy November night. I'm reminded of a visit to the little Welsh chapel at The St Fagan's Museum near Cardiff. The strongest impression it left with me was of the extreme proximity of the pulpit to every pew in the building. One could imagine a hellfire preacher eyeing his congregation - and the congregation feeling well and truly eyed... There is something about close contact with real human beings that notches up the emotional temperature in a way that electronic media just doesn't. As Mrs DG said last night on the way back from a magnificent performance of "The Three Snake Leaves" by the Company of Storytellers, "Why would I want to listen to a CD after a performance like that"...

So why am I, an advocate of teaching media suggesting that electronic media can never match a live performance? Well, to be precise, I'm actually an advocate for teaching the making of media. In the act of creation we engage more deeply in our ideas, dreams, knowledge and experiences. I am, I suppose, a constructionist in my outlook. So it was an enormous pleasure to listen to Peter Cowdrey the Music Director of Opera Unlimited talking about their Birdswing project. And an equal pleasure to talk to Rosie Johnston their Artistic Director and discover they were looking for schools to work with. With luck and a following wind we'll be working together in the new year.  All too often media is guilty of making us armchair naturalists. The Birdswing project uses media creation to engage people with the living world. Right up my street...