Dream of the Field Cricket

April 27, 2019
Photo by:
Alex Hyde

For an insect that spends almost all of its time underground, the field cricket has an elusive charisma, on account of its evocative 'song'. A unique event will celebrate this miniature sound-maker.

Field cricket
Field Cricket (Gryllus campestris), female nymph. Sussex, UK. April. Photographed under license on white backround in the field.

In what is almost certainly a first, a whole afternoon and evening will be devoted to the humble field cricket, whose summer song has returned to the heathlands of Surrey. On 1st June, near Farnham, I will be joined by violinist and composer Peter Sheppard Skærved in a unique collaboration between artists and ecologists to celebrate the sounds of the heath and this miniature sound-maker in particular.

The field cricket was once common in the Surrey/Hampshire heaths. Gilbert White, writing in 1779, noted that “their cheerful summer cry cannot but draw the attention of the naturalist.” He might not have expected this strangely beautiful chirrup to attract much attention from composers and writers, but that is now set to change. Peter and I have been keen to collaborate for some time, and over the past year we have been focusing in on Gryllus campestris as a possible subject. Once nearly extinct in Britain, it is now the subject of intensive effort as part of the Back from the Brink programme, funded by National Heritage Lottery Fund. For a musical response, Peter hit upon the idea of slowing the call of the cricket down by 250 times, to discover minute sonic details no human could appreciate. He has been using this as material for a new composition, 6 Calls, which will be premiered on 1 June, when we will be joined by Peter’s fellow member of the Kreutzer Quartet, Mihailo Trandafilovski, visual artist Emma Burt and Farnham Heath warden Mike Coates.

In the afternoon, I will lead a short ‘walk for inspiration’ on the heath, followed by a nature writing workshop. In the early evening, we will assemble at the Rural Life Centre of an hour of music and writings from the 18th to the 21st centuries, ending with an evening walk to hear crickets, nightjars and the other denizens of Farnham Heath. The event is free to attend, but booking is essential. All details can be found here.

Peter Sheppard Skærved sketch of field cricket song
Peter Sheppard Skærved: first sketch based on the slowed-down song of the field cricket.

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