Though Henley may have stilled amidst the coronavirus crisis, Wharfe Lane comes alive at 6pm each evening as residents enjoy live music from saxophonist Art Themen. Wharfe Lane residents have been standing on their doorsteps and hanging their heads out of windows to watch Art’s performance, maintaining a safe distance between them but united by the joy of music.
The evening mini-concerts began on Tuesday 17 March, sparked by a suggestion from Wharfe Lane resident, Jane, that they could play music on their balconies. Art, a jazz musician by trade, began playing his saxophone on their riverside balcony, but moved to the street as his music couldn’t be heard. His rapturous performances have taken place at 6pm every evening since, excepting Sunday when the street holds a poetry night.
The unmissable daily event has become such a staple in the Wharfe Lane residents’ schedules that they are now suggesting that the ladies wear hats to celebrate the occasion. Monique, Art’s partner, said, “It’s our little bit of fun to look forward to in the evening.”
Art began playing jazz at Cambridge University, where he studied medicine. The former orthopaedic surgeon has toured around the UK and the world, playing with a number of other celebrated musicians including Charlie Rouse, Red Rodney, Jack Bruce, Stan Tracey and Alexis Korner. Since retiring from medicine, he has been focusing on his music career and is heralded as one of the most sought after saxophonists on the UK jazz scene.
Although Art’s performance is a highlight of the Wharfe Lane calendar, we must stress that it is a performance for residents only, and that people should heed the government’s instruction to stay home. Jane, who first proposed the idea, stated, “We don’t want it so crowded out that it gets stopped. My fear is that if everyone comes we will be banned. It’s to keep everyone on our street happy, and it’s like a roll call because some people are on their own, so we can check that everyone is fine. We don’t want it spoilt — we don’t want 100 people turning up.”
In these turbulent times of social distancing, we must all do our part to stay away from each other physically, but Art and his saxophone have proven that we needn’t be emotionally isolated. Art’s music continues to bring his community together, connecting neighbours from afar and injecting some much needed cheer into an otherwise lonely day. If you play an instrument and have been inspired by Art, perhaps you could put on a performance for your own street.