“Hey, look at this, wow the sound will be great in here, just like St. Paul’s, you know the whispering gallery,” Jane the first violin exclaimed, the nervous excitement lending a sharpness to her voice that I had never heard before. We were all excited though, just beginning to make a name as an occasional string quartet and out of the blue an invitation from the bursar at St. Danae’s girls college. Although we had honed our collected skills on intimate evenings of chamber music in some of the swankiest little cocktail bars this was big league. By the way I’m second violin, Allan is viola and Suzanne is cello. Jane is our leader in more ways than one.
We weren’t due to perform for another eight hours but as soon as our hosts had shown us the venue we knew that we had to get in and start warming up. What an opportunity. Trouble was we had to lug our instruments from the van, through the tradesman’s entrance at the side of the stables and down through the gardens. At least it wasn’t an uphill pergola or whatever they’re called.
Passing between the columns we entered a round dark-brown oak wainscoted chamber. There were a handful of upholstered high-backed chairs on one side and four wooden chairs sitting separately to one side. We assumed these to be ours. With our mouths open in wonder we must have looked like a group of schoolchildren meeting J K Rowling or her creation Harry Potter.
“Let’s give it a go.” Jane enthused, breaking the spell. We laid our cases to one side and almost in a subdued manner extracted our instruments. With our music stands in front of the chairs it would have looked to anyone coming through the door as though we were playing to an empty hall.
We had decided on a mainly Bach evening so struck up for practise,”The art of fugue,” generally one of his most popular. We wanted to know the musical quality of the dome high above our heads. After a few bars I thought I could hear someone humming along but we were the only ones there and none of my companions would hum and play at the same time. “Stop, stop a minute,” I said holding my bow in the air, “What is that strange noise, can any of you hear it?” They all sheepishly nodded their heads, each admitting that they had thought it was one of us but not sure from which of us the sound was emanating. Before we could resume the humming started to get louder, increasing in volume and frequency. It sounded like the wind passing around the doorframe but it was copying the tune we had just been playing. “It doesn’t do that in St. Pauls,” Suzanne whispered. Allan agreed stating that he was going to have a look round.
“But, there’s nothing to look round,”I argued,”just bare wooden walls and a few plaster carvings on the ceiling.” I hadn’t taken any notice of the carvings when we entered but looking up we could see that the immaculately carved. figures were cherubs. All had instruments much as ours forming a quartet and they surrounded a figure of a woman. She was wearing a long evening dress and with her hands clasped in front of her breast in typical singing pose. In our heightened state of mind we all agreed that perhaps this was not the time to continue practising until we had spoken to the Bursar and see if there was anything he could tell us about the chamber, perhaps even if it had a reputation for eerie events or characters.