One of my favourite maxims : ‘You’re born with a million lives; you die having had one’. Some of the lives I might have had, I am sure I will never be able to imagine; but when – as sometimes happens – I am asked ‘if you hadn’t done music, what would you have done instead?’, my answer is always the same: architecture.
Like many boys, a favourite toy was Lego, but in the late 60s this wasn’t a case of sets of specific bricks that made one particular thing; rather it was lots and lots of square and rectangular bricks, a few windows and roofing tiles. I made buildings: houses, castles, churches. These were not to some set picture on the box (actually the Lego was stored in old biscuit tins, I seem to remember), but each time different – products of my imagination. My favourite thing was doing the roof when there were gables with gulleys and subsidiary ridges.
When I was at school, my best subject at O’ level (as it then was) was Mathematics, closely followed by Geometric and Engineering Drawing. Now there’s a subject! Strangely, I didn’t do O’ level Music, just lots of practical music: piano, organ, violin, singing and keyboard harmony every week, and orchestras and choirs each day. In a different school, maybe the Music would not have been so encouraged, and then what? I suspect the answer would have been architecture. Curiously, architecture is in my family: it was my father’s creative skill, and it is my nephew’s career (Simon Knight Architects) – very talented he is too.
Thinking it through, I see the two as very similar: both fill a space – architecture’s space is physical, music’s temporal; both need a structure to make the edifice work, and both have a surface above that structure which is received by the passer by (architecture through the eyes, music via the ears). Each can be savoured much more deeply by the committed admirer, both are dependent on manipulating with technical knowledge wedded to creative imagination conduits for the architectural / musical concept – architecture via materials such as concrete, timber and glass, music with instruments such as strings, winds and brass. Both have to be realised by other specialists – builders and performing musicians. One can draw further parallels with aesthetic and style, commissioning briefs, site / performance venue, budgetary constraints, etc.
Sometimes the two get very close: Bruckner’s symphonies come to mind – one can almost see pillars and arches as you listen to them, and symmetries in his love of inverted motifs. Next time I meet up with my nephew, I must ask him which architects design buildings that are most like music.