Regularly visited by bouts of insomnia I’m no stranger to the small hours. I wouldn’t describe it as productive time; although when else am I going to revisit every slightly awkward conversation I have ever had or every minor (and not so minor) mistake I have ever made?
In short, I’m used to being awake at the crack of dawn, but being awake, dressed and in the garden, cuppa in hand, before the crack of dawn is a rarity. I don’t know when I last watched the sunrise. How about you?
Despite often-interrupted sleep I am very definitely a morning person. Those quiet moments of solitude – after the birds have begun singing but before most people have stirred – provide the best start to the day.
This morning, I (and 4000+ other people across the UK) experienced the dawn of a new day in a different way. Together, but apart.
DAWNS was a one-off, live musical experience resulting from a collaboration between the National Trust, Heritage Open Days and a group of artists known as non zero one.
[Full disclosure, I am currently working with Heritage Open Days, but they didn’t ask me to write this.]
At 3:30am I took my brew into the garden, sat on low wall and put my headphones in. After a slight delay (there were a lot of us and the website had a minor wobble) my ears filled with the sound of someone taking a deep but gentle breath.
As light hit John O’Groats in Scotland, the narrator – her voice calm and warm – welcomed us. She explained how daylight would sweep across the landscape from south-east to north-west and encouraged us to find an anchor point in our view; something against which we could gauge the changing light and colours of the sky.
Over the next 80 minutes, we listened to an original score from composer James Bulley played live by five musicians. The piece began as a solo. Each musician joined in at the point at which the light reached their location resulting in a quite spectacular quintet. For me, the most striking section was when the handpans began. The sound was ethereal, almost like raindrops.
The narrator returned to encourage us all to take a photo at exactly 4:49am and from a quick scroll through #DAWNSLive on Twitter I can see many hundreds of people did so. The music came to a close as daylight touched the south coast of Cornwall.
In Kent, it was a cloudy morning, so the sunrise was a watery collection of greys, pinks and purples. A spectacular canvas of oranges and yellows might have been nice but the point of the exercise wasn’t for us all to ‘out-sunrise’ each other. It was about experiencing collective moment.
I found it quite moving.
For me, it was very much a reminder that whatever is happening in the world – and there is a LOT happening in the world just now – nature does its thing. We take it for granted and we don’t always notice the detail but each day the sun rises, the birds sing, and the trees, plants and flowers grow a few millimetres more.
It’s easy to get swamped by big worries, and when that happens there is something to be said for concentrating – really concentrating – on what’s right in front of you. What you can see and hear, and how it makes you feel. To do that this morning, in the company of thousands of other people sat in their gardens, perched on their doorsteps or leant against windows, was special.
This was a one-off experience, in that it won’t be available on ‘catchup’ as so many things are these days, but it was also a one-off in that it rewarded those of us who were committed to a very early start with something unique.
If you missed it, you really did miss out.