One hundred years of silence

For most of her life, Mr B's grandmother lived in a mud-brick cottage that a previous family-member had built 160 years before. It was set behind the more recent family home in which Mr B grew up and, for the children, Nan's house was a second home, a happy place that seemed stuck in the previous century, where a never-ending supply of old-fashioned cakes and Sunday roasts issued from the wood-burning stove in her tiny kitchen. 

After Nan passed away, they found among her things a broken old Edison phonograph that had once belonged to Mr B's Grandad, and a big collection of cylinder records in beautiful old cardboard canisters. Mr B never knew his Grandad, who had died several decades earlier, and we don't think Nan or Grandad had ever played the phonograph. It was missing several important pieces. Instead, we think the phonograph had most likely belonged to his father in turn, and was just one of those things that never got thrown out. 

For a hundred years those old cylinders, whose only purpose was to make music, lay silent and forgotten in a cardboard box in the family home. Unplayed records are a lonely thought, don't you think? Like old postcards never sent. I picture the records resting all through the decades, guarding their music and waiting, still waiting, for another chance to sing. So we sent Grandad's old phonograph off to be repaired. 

And on Sunday afternoon, for the first time in a century, they made music.

Each cylinder contained only one track and, as far as we could tell, most of them were hymns. The very first one we managed to play was an old hymn called "Shall We Meet Beyond the River," which had been released as the Edison Gold Record we were playing in 1906.

I'll be honest, it's not Mozart, but to us it didn't matter. Mr B eased the record into place, wound the crank on the side of the phonograph, and slowly but with growing strength a crackly, slightly-distorted old tune broke one hundred years of silence and proudly entered the day.

To us, the music felt as though it hovered in the air like a time-traveller. A visitor from yesteryear: not ghostly, but as real and present as you or me. Layering one age upon another as if to prove, in a simple hymn, Einstein's theory of time relativity. 

And then the crank ran out of puff, the long-dead singer and his orchestra slowed and deepened and distorted further, and eventually the old record slid back into silence once more.


Never miss a post