Symphonies in the woods: At the Park of Music, Denmark
Denmark’s Jutland city Aalborg is big on history, culture and architecture, but nothing compares to its unique Park of Music, where the tunes of nearly a hundred stalwarts play at the touch of a button amidst trees and rolling lawns.
In the early morning light, the park seemed almost magical, like something that Lewis Carroll conjured up for Alice. It was full of trees, hedges, dewy green grass and ephemeral wisps of mist that dissolved into nothingness even before they fully registered.
From the street, a gravel path ran straight for a few hundred metres flanked by tall linden trees and statues on pedestals. It ended in a little pond amidst which was an elaborate fountain. Beyond the path were acres of grassy lawns interspersed with trees.
The whole park was suffused with a heady smell, a combination of damp earth and viridescent garden. It was also cold and the park was deserted. And then, all of a sudden, the stillness was broken by Sir Cliff Richard’s distinct voice belting a mash-up of his some of his songs.
Sir Cliff in the flesh
The music might have seemed incongruous in a sprawling park with not a soul in sight, but it was the most significant part of Kildeparken, almost in the middle of Aalborg, in the North of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. I followed the notes and arrived at the Northeast corner of the park where a section had been designated the Park of Music or De Syngende Traer (The Singing Trees).
There were rows and rows of oak and cherry trees, planted rather symmetrically and spaced out well. In front of each was a little black pillar with a name and a date on it. In the centre was a little green button, which when pressed, began playing a medley of songs by the person indicated. It was truly eponymous.
Probably the only one of its kind in the world, Aalborg started this unique project in 1987 when legendary musician Sir Cliff Richard arrived for a performance. Looking to commemorate the event, the city got him to plant a tree in the park and then erected a pillar in his honour in front of it and inserted a medley of some of the songs he performed.
It soon became something of a tradition and since then, more than 90 visiting musicians and bands have planted trees and have their music inserted in pillars.
Like manna from heaven
For most people it was an appealing initiative. For music lovers, it was like manna from heaven, a paradise. During evenings and holidays, the whole place swirls and echoes with the glorious music of multiple stalwarts.
But that morning, there was nobody and an expectant silence hung in the air, ready to welcome whatever notes to ring out. At first, it seemed difficult to choose since names beckoned from all sides: Elton John, Prince, Sting, Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Kenny Rogers, Beyonce, Shakira, James Blunt, Leonard Cohen, Placido Domingo, Jethro Tull, Guns n Roses... The choices were too many and the mind was tying itself up in knots trying to decide where to start.
But then logic prevailed and I began at the top of the park, working my way down systematically, row after row, pressing button after button. And though the names were familiar, I was thrilled to bits when the music burst forth each time since there was no predicting what songs had been incorporated.
Each segment broke the silence, lasted for just a minute or two, and then all was silence again. Until I flitted to the next one. What made it even more surreal was an unusual accompaniment to the recorded music: chirping birds and the occasional hare chomping on the grass.
An air of serenity
There was very little foot traffic in the park itself, and almost no one near the Park of Music so I had it all to myself. There was no method to the placement of the artistes and so I jumped from one genre to another but not for a second did I grow weary.
From the mellifluent and majestic notes of the London and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras to the dulcet tones of Kylie Minogue, from the classical tenor of Andrea Bocelli to the soothing Blues of BB King, from the yuppie tunes of Backstreet Boys to the timelessness of Stevie Wonder, from the pulsating beats of Guns n Roses to the liquid flow of the Modern Jazz Quartet, it was the most eclectic playlist ever.
And it was all so heart-warmingly uplifting that I just couldn’t stand still and jigged a bit now and then, emboldened by the fact that I was alone. The silence, the lilting melodies and air of serenity in the park contrasted greatly with what was outside its walls.
The previous day, I had driven into Aalborg and had promptly been swept under its energetic buzz. A university town, it was as if there were youngsters everywhere I looked. But the city’s skyline was a curious amalgamation of ancient buildings and modernistic architectural structures.
The city’s true character Aalborg’s history went back to the middle ages when it was a thriving port town. However, it was only around the 14th and 15th centuries that the city got much of its character.
The city centre was filled with half-timbered houses lining narrow cobbled streets, the most dramatic
of which was the 16th century Aalbborghus Castle which stood at the edge of the centre and was a whitewashed structure with striking red woodwork.
The monotony was broken by stunningly beautiful and towering structures such as the 14th century Budolfi Church and the Gothic 15th century Vor Frue Kloster or Abbey of Our Lady.
But the city’s most dramatic structures were along the Central Waterfront where the Aalborg University, its buildings and the dramatic Musikkens Hus or House of Music, a stunning concert space, were located.
But all these seemed to draw their breath from the Utzon Center. A massive building with dramatic curving roofs, this was the last building that Jorn Utzon, legendary architect, he of the Sydney Opera House fame, designed and built.
Utzon grew up in Aalborg and the center was his way of paying tribute to the city with an interactive space for architecture students that also paid tribute to his father, a shipbuilder.
How sweet the sound
In the evening, Aalborg seemed to let its hair down and streets such as Osteragade, Jamfru Ane Gade and Boulevarden, and open areas such as Nytorv, thrummed with music and the buzz of people having a good time. At the beautifully laid out Mortens Kro restaurant, slow-cooked and delicious Nordic food was served with much warmth as well as flourish.
But fascinating as all of it was, it was the Park of Music that had me in its clutches. There was something utterly enchanting to listen to music in this fashion. It was both hypnotising and addictive.
But as I gradually worked my way to the bottom of the park and reached the last row, I began to become wistful that it would eventually end. The last button belonged to the immensely talented Il Divo, a multi-national crossover classical quartet with grounding in opera which pioneered operatic pop and called it popera.
I was blown away by their performance of the Spanish version of Hallelujah, but it was their rendition of Amazing Grace that was truly overwhelming. I turned away as ‘How sweet the sound’ rang out and filled the entire park. It couldn’t have been more befitting.
For travel info, accommodation and events visit visitaalborg.com