Music for the Arts Tower (Nightingales)


piccolos, clarinets & voices


This site specific event was commissioned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the completion of one of Sheffield’s most iconic modernist landmarks; the University of Sheffield Arts Tower. Platform 4 together with sound artist Lorenzo Prati created and curated a programme of music designed specifically to take advantage of the wonderful spaces and acoustics offered up by the building in 2023. Although each composer contributed individual pieces to the programme, the event was conceived as a whole, with pieces overlapping and echoing each other.

First performance


University of Sheffield Arts Tower

A collaborative project with Platform 4 and sound artist Lorenzo Prati for the Classical Sheffield Weekend 23. Performed by Platform 4,  Sheffield CoMA, and local musicians.

Funded by University of Sheffield Concerts, Classical Sheffield, Delphi Trust

Jenny's 'Nightingales' music was performed in various locations, throughout the evening.

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The piece is scored for piccolos, clarinets and voices; instruments that can easily mimic the sounds of a nightingale’s song (trills, screeches, croaks, tweets, whistles, scratches, babbling and gurgling). The musical gestures are transcriptions made of the nightingale song but the piece also celebrates ‘birds’ in a more generic sense, opening up more possibilities in the visual performance and allowing the performers more freedom as they move around the building. The group effect is often alarming, which is a bird’s natural response to a perceived threat, and therefore fitting!

The structure of Arts Tower Nightingales mirrors Lorenzo Prati’s overall concept for the Music in the Arts Tower event and is closely aligned with the paternoster lift loop. Nightingale ‘iterations’ occurred every 8 minutes 37 seconds (the duration of a complete paternoster lift loop), throughout the evening. These were triggered by audio cues heard on the tape loop, which were engineered by Lorenzo using pre-recorded material.

'Nightingales' takes influence from the ancient Anglo-Saxon riddle ‘Nightingale’ - one of the Exeter Book bird riddles (No. 8, author unknown) - which is like a musical score in itself. The idea of a songbird which ‘speaks out in many tongues, with skill, variation and a lofty voice', lends itself very well to musical interpretation, especially in the setting of the Arts Tower where there is plenty of space for performers to spread out and move around, and different levels to perform from (as if they were birds themselves!).

Anglo-Saxon riddle (Nightingale) 

I speak out through my mouth in many tongues,

I sing with skill and vary constantly

My lofty voice, with a resounding noise,

I hold my tune, do not conceal my sound.

An ancient night-time singer, I bring joy

To dwellers in the towns when I sing loud,

With modulated tones; quiet in their homes

They listen with bent heads. Say what I’m called,

Who loudly emulate the story-songs

Of minstrels, and foretell to humankind

Many glad tidings with my tuneful song.

Translation by Richard Hamer

Please let me know if you intend to perform one of my pieces: I would love to hear about it!