Friday, June 13, 2008

Good night, chimney swifts

This evening my orchestra, the Arlington Philharmonic, performed at the annual Arlington Pops Concert in city hall.  It's actually kind of fun, despite my generally highfalutin' tastes in orchestral music.  The program is usually chock full of various medleys, of course.  Tonight we did five: Carousel, Guys and Dolls, Henry Mancini movie favorites, Leroy Anderson Favorites, and Armed Forces theme songs.  It's a very town hall, ice cream and old folks event, though there are plenty of kids too.  It's kind of noisy, as well, which takes the pressure off of attempting to give a stellar performance.  Everybody enjoys it, and as it's the last concert before the summer break, I enjoy finishing up with a couple months of empty, long summer evenings ahead of me to look forward to.  

My favorite tradition of the pops concert, however, is watching the chimney swift spectacle.  The orchestra performs first, starting around 7:45, and after a few pieces the chorus takes over for a while.  I always wander outside during the break, where the light is usually beginning to dim as the sun sets.  Across the street from the town hall is a tall chimney which holds, year after year, a large roost of chimney swifts.  

Watching a chimney swift colony return to its roost at dusk is a wonderful little intersection of man and nature and is always a pleasure to watch.  The swifts, sometimes hundreds of them, will start returning from their wide wandering around the local area as dusk approaches.  They will fly around and about their home chimney, diving and swirling about, moving off for a last few bugs, twittering and jousting with each other, playing at returning to the chimney but pulling off at the last moment, more and more of them as the evening moves on and the sky gets darker.  They gradually tighten their wandering, clustering closer and closer around their roost; if the colony is big enough it can look like a little tornado sitting above the chimney. Still they dive at the opening and pull back; I don't know what that is all about.  It just seems playful to me.  I shouldn't get too anthropomorphic, but I just can't resist trying to imagine what might be going through their heads at that moment.  

Finally, they start dropping in, slowing the beating of their wings just a bit to an awkward flutter, slowing down and floating, simply, head first, down into the opening of the chimney in a steady stream.  Most of them follow suit very quickly, though a few of them will sometimes hold out for a few minutes, the excited children who want to stay up just a little more.  None come back out.

When it's all done, it is dark, with just a dark band of blue on the western horizon to remind us of the day that has passed.  On cue, the audience applauds as the chorus finishes its set and I return to my violin and my seat to finish the performance.

Good night!


franny said...

What a lovely description! Wish I was there watching with you.


Sven said...

Good Job! :)