Standing in those spare, white, Scandinavian spaces, it feels as though the building is playing us. It feels as though our pipes call up a much larger instrument, and once it’s alive and vibrating, once the mutant building-music-player-listener being has awoken, we’re haloed in a thrumming, singing bliss.
It’s so peaceful. We’re in our world, playing our way back into one another’s sound, making friends with this acoustic, finding what can be stretched, what needs to be taut. We’re playing out of the day that’s been, heading further and further into our wordless universe. We slip into it easily now. But of course it wasn’t always so.
We have been playing together for many years, Poul and I. The more we play, the more I love it. It never seems stale, tight, or worn, as sometimes it can when you have inhabited certain repertoire a lot. Our music doesn’t run on adrenalin. It feels like the essence of all that is simple and true. It’s my well for renewing hope and spirit. Poul is too. The more we play, the more I discover: more freedom, more detail, more space, more pleasure, more beauty, more peace.
Concert days, we begin our ritual hours before anyone else arrives. Laying out instruments, breathing in the scent of the room, we find the sweetest spot to stand and play. This is often the time I love best, just the two of us in an empty building with our pipes. We play the program through, sometimes with a few shortcuts, but in essence, we touch each note, still, after all these years. Occasionally, we stop to check a detail, laugh as something goes awry. Some days, one of us will be skittish, fiddling with tuning, fretting over nuance. So the other tries to hold steady. We take it in turns to wander out and listen. I pace, listening to balance across the space, and then lie on the floor as Poul plays his solo. Listening intently to him tells me what I need to do in this place.
Poul’s one of those musicians who can play pretty much anything he picks up, but he’s meticulous, so only ever goes public on something that sits as close as his skin. He’s a master player, a master musician. He’s uncompromising. He is at home with music of utter simplicity. His tunes are spun with exquisite ornaments. And when he plays, he can make a room very, very still. With him, I have learnt to say less, and to say it more eloquently. I have learnt the power of a groove, how to be held by an inevitable beat and find freedom there.
Together, we make a strange, hybrid being. We bring out parts of one another that may otherwise have remained hidden. We are closely related in many ways, powerfully different in others. Somehow, as a duo, it feels as though we amplify one another.
My first national concert tour was with Poul. I was giddy with it. We navigated trains, buses, planes, walked in the bush, watched birds, cooked and ate together, and streaming out of all that, each night, came our music. Different towns and cities each day, different floors or sofas to sleep on, different kind, kind hosts, different audiences, different acoustics, different conversations, every day a miracle of discovery. And every night, that same vigil, the beautiful rhythm and release of everything falling away, falling into sound.
Early in that first tour, in a gallery in Castlemaine, I was wracked with nerves, and I told him so. Kindly, but very firmly, he said he didn’t want to hear, that nerves were best kept private. “They’re contagious,” he said. I was taken aback. But he’s right. In that vulnerable, pre-performance time, shared spaces are for laughing and joking, talking about anything other than what’s ahead. I try to take my troubles elsewhere.
But of course Poul and I know when the other is toey. We read one another alarmingly deeply now. We have ways of taking care, ways of trying to steer us both back to safer ground.
Poul attaches a solemn weight to a friendship. He is capable of superb silliness. But if he takes you to his heart, it is for life. And he’s clear sighted about what that entails.
I hope that it will be possible for us to go the duration together. It feels so. Already, it’s been 22 years. The best of it is that there’s still so much we don’t know.