A few of us stood, awkwardly at first, waiting for something to happen. The high ceilings and white, white walls added to a sense of silence and anticipation. Slowly the musicians spread around the room and began to play - electric harp, keyboard, violin, viola, cello, French horn and an array of flutes. Observers shuffled around the perimeter of the room, then sat down on the floor, and allowed ourselves to be immersed in waves of music. It didn’t take long for a sense of peace to descend on me – the first-world stresses of a day battling public transport and faulty wi-fi quickly faded.
I was watching Epiphany perform at Whitworth Art Gallery’s Thursday Late session. Epiphany is an eclectic group of professional musicians who specialise in creative musical events, emphasising innovation and improvisation. One of their flagship projects is creating ‘sound portraits’, in which they improvise musical impressions of people who choose to be ‘painted’, often revealing surprising insight or expression.
After their first piece of music, Epiphany’s leader, Richard Williamson invited people to come and sit in the middle of the room, on a chair, to experience these 'sound portraits'. A woman volunteered; her portrait was very pastoral and joyful. The next volunteer elicited a strong, but melancholy melody which evolved into more complex sounds. As the next person went forward, a man who had just entered the gallery, and was obviously very taken by what he was experiencing, asked how he could get on that chair. “Just come up, after this on,” was the answer – and almost as soon as the music had faded, he strode purposefully to the middle.
He had his opera glasses with him tonight. Last week he didn't and he fretted constantly about it. This evening he picked them up several times, to peer at me from his comfy chair four feet away. What he saw, I don't know. Perhaps my fingers clacking on my flute keys, or the title on my sheet music.
And she was there once again, so smilingly steadfast. She asked if I'd been before? Yes, I said - omitting that it has been at least a dozen times - and it's lovely to be here again. Decades later she still sparkles and holds herself with exquisite grace, a true ballerina.
Many are grumbling today, complaining that performers are always late (it's not time for me to start yet), and will one of the carers get me a drink - how rude they are! Management is never told about these problems and there shall have to be a meeting to sort this all out.
When I suggest that I play them a piano programme tonight (because they must be tired of me playing the flute), I am immediately shot down. A lady in purple is truly upset. But I came to hear the flute! I'm not staying for boring piano!