Throughout lockdown, many of us have enjoyed reconnecting with the natural world. Guitarist Geoff Robb started to explore being musically inspired by trees in late 2018, but it was a concept he expanded more fully in 2020 to create The Music of Trees.
Snippets of folklore helped to captivate you
Classically trained, Robb enlivens some of his compositions with Spanish style pace, but other times he has been content to keep the sound relatively rich and unhurried. You could hear other influences creep in too. A Celtic sound is most prominent on The Scots Pine, which is dedicated to the national tree of Scotland and the druids who used it as part of their worship. Although sticking with his guitar throughout, Robb also diverged into a more lute-like way of playing for one tune in order to recognise the importance of trees in medieval society.
Robb’s music echoed beautifully throughout the nave of St Mary’s Church in Kemptown. As the music became more hypnotic, the tall stone pillars almost seemed to transform into a canopy of birch trees. In fact, the church’s vaulted roof is made from dark stained pine, which gave the venue a more forest-like feel in the context.
Robb’s understated nature doesn’t hide the fact that he is a highly skilled guitarist. He mentioned that sometimes the composing came easily to him, other times it was harder. However, simply listening to them you could never tell which was which, as all of the tunes flowed effortlessly from his fingertips. The staging was kept simple, which allowed the music and the beauty of the church to take centre stage.
For those of us not familiar with all of the different species of trees, it may have been nice to have a pamphlet, or even a projection, accompanying in order to help our imagination along, and make a deeper connection, particularly as Robb’s asides between the compositions were so fascinating and educational. I was certainly inspired to note down Kingley Vale as a place to visit, after learning it was home to some of Britain’s most ancient trees. It was also fascinating to hear about the acacia trees, which have the incredible ability to emit a warning gas that other trees can sense when they are being eaten by giraffes.
The integration of snippets of folklore helped to captivate you, as you listened in to try and hear the healing sweetness of the cherry tree, so revered by the Japanese, or the sadness of the elm’s plight. Having this overarching theme, and these introductions, may make it easier for those new to listening to guitar music in this way to engage.
Overall, Geoff Robb’s The Music of Trees was a much needed meditative experience. In this busy world, we often don’t give ourselves enough time to pause, and truly lean into the present moment. As trees watch the world and seasons go by, sometimes for hundreds or thousands of years, Robb’s timeless and masterful performance reminded us to step back, and follow their lead to take a moment for ourselves.