A show entitled The Music of Trees might sound like it caters to a fairly specific cross-section of interests. And while the performance certainly occupies a niche of its own at the Edinburgh Fringe, the birdsong playing on the speakers as the audience enters the theatre is an apt reminder that there is an intrinsic connection between music and nature.
It’s something classically-trained guitarist Geoff Robb found to be true when, stuck for songwriting inspiration back in 2018, he ventured into his local Sussex woodland and asked a solitary linden tree for help. As he tells this story, we are invited to close our eyes and envisage the scene. His instinctive, organic guitar-work brings the forest to life: warm, earthy chords evoke the rich scent of soil, the intricate tangle of notes glints like sunlight through the forest canopy. And as he talks about the mycelium – an underground network of fungal roots, by which trees communicate and share resources – the higher notes become a twinkling web of weightless beads of light.
Since seeking assistance from the trees, Robb found he was writing a lot more music. His album The Music of Trees was released in August 2020, a different species of tree inspiring each track, a selection of which he plays in this award-winning show.
The pastoral Linden is followed by Ash, a darker, more mysterious song with a noticeable Spanish influence. In between each piece, Robb provides some background information. Before beginning the rippling, restless melody of Willow, he tells us the species is known as ‘the tree of immortality’ due to its amazing ability to grow from a single twig.
The yew, Robb divulges, was his favourite species to write music for. This ancient tree, with its close association with death, prompts a sad, richly evocative tune based on medieval lute music. Finally, he concludes the show with Cherry, a sweet, lilting melody which leads into a glimmering cascade of notes, perfectly illustrating the tree’s petals sprinkling down in their thousands.
Only assisted by a few sound effects, Robb relies on his words and his guitar to immerse the audience in the arboreal world he takes his inspiration from. The Music of Trees is an understated show that simply achieves exactly what it promises: wondrous, dreamy music kindled by a love of trees. If you’re looking for a refreshing hour of calm in between the chaos and commotion of the Fringe, look no further.