Friday 5 November 2021

Noise and Sounds

The sounds of students learning and laughing once again fills the air

… have been a rare commodity in the confines of the College until recent times. The stillness and the stilted silence for months on end gave the hallowed grounds and buildings of the College a hollow lifelessness. Over recent weeks they have come alive in myriad ways. The bustling and energetic sounds of the school yard and its many subtle expressions and manifestations brings with it cogent symbols of life, and that is what the return of the young men have brought in such abundance.

My office overlooks Third Yard. Some have had the vicarious pleasure (or displeasure?) of a meeting there. In its current construct it overlooks the play space that is reserved for the Stage 5 cohort, which is a requirement of Level 3 + Restrictions. With the windows open due to the need for air flows and ventilation, there is no filter between the captivating energy of the yard during play times and the multitude of (Zoom) meetings online in the office. The ambient noise of the adjacent area is arresting and penetrating, so much so that the audio function on the computer needs to be turned off on a regular basis.

But what a joy it is to behold, because the animation and vitality of the yard is palpable with young men who are back in the place where they belong – growing, socialising and learning in an environment that provides so much by way of life experience. The social context of living that has been in abeyance for such a very long time is being reconstituted in the microcosm of the school yard each and every day.

I am also contiguous to the Woods – the musical centre across from Third Yard that has nurtured so many musicians over the generations. On Wednesday I heard a particularly strident rendition of ‘Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer’ as the boys learning wind instruments practised their craft outdoors in preparation for the season of Christmas, which is not so far away. The melodious cadence of the tune was uplifting, and the spirited production of sound was solace to the ears after the still and silent months of lockdown. It has given me deep cause for reflection and appreciation for the time that we are now fortunate to have, one that speaks to a new social and educational environment where sounds, among other things, are converted into the beauty of music: the appreciation of life in all its fullness.

There were two particular events during the week where sounds captured the very essence of the moment. The first was over the weekend. On Saturday night after Boarders’ Mass, one of our talented musicians asked if he could play the organ in the Dalton Chapel – a recreational pastime that he relishes when opportunity presents. Over an hour later I had cause to pass the same area, from which emanated the most magnificent orchestral sounds, so hauntingly beautiful as the sun sank low into the western horizon. It was a deeply spiritual moment – a boarder immersed in his music with the depth and majesty of the organ that brought the events of his day to a close.

The second was on Wednesday morning. Lesson 1 was underway with teachers and students busily engaged in the business of learning. From around the base of the Wallace building came an asynchronous noise, a bleating – as in sheep!! Investigation revealed that it was Ramsay, the orphaned lamb who at the time was being looked after (nappy and all!!) by a member of staff. He wandered out into Third Yard to join a Year 9 RE class to be looked after by a boarder whose own farm has 1,500 sheep. The bleating continued as I walked away.

Each and every day, I walk around the campus in the morning and afternoon. Thankfully during these times, I see at close range the intensity of classroom activity – the teachers at their craft and the boys immersed in learning. For those involved in the business of education, there is a captivation and a magnetism about this: the relational dynamics of the classroom enlivened by the young men and teachers whose daily interactions and energies intersect in such a variety of ways.

After hours there is cause to walk the grounds at night and it is instructive to observe the lights and the sounds of the boarding residences. They were in darkness for months. The order of night study is interrupted by meal-times, where hunger and conversation jostle for space and primacy. Residential boarding communities are busy places in which the complex but enjoyable business of living occurs in the convolutions of time and place. But there is always activity and the accompanying sounds: laughter, spirited discussion, argument, instruction and organisation.

The ovals and courts have also come alive with their own unique and inimitable sounds. Basketball drills and balls bounce and echo off backboards, referees’ whistles arbitrate simulated games, the thwack of the cricket ball on bat and the high-pitched pop of tennis balls against racquets. These are back in force and have been deeply missed.

One of the most poignant memories, amid many of the last year, is the moment that a fire alarm was tripped at the College and the sheer incessance of the noise that led to the evacuation of the buildings. At the assembly point there was only one person – the author of this script, and what a lonely and forlorn moment it was when the Fire Brigade arrived to inform that it was a false alarm. The switch on the panel was turned off and those who attended the call out went home. As did I, having participated in a necessary protocol but without the life force to whom it applied. Life is about energy, activity, connection, conversation and sounds. Let us give thanks for its comforting presence it in the current context, for it is the polar opposite of a whole term where there was none.

Dr Paul Hine