A Macomber Center Soundscape

Soundscape – variously described as a sound or number of sounds coming from an environment; something that is the same as a landscape, but aural-based instead of geography-based; and the auditory environment that surrounds a listener.


The soundscape of  Macomber Center is varied and intricate, complicated and different from hour to hour, day to day, season to season, always fascinating to absorb. My work table at the Center is toward the back of our large room, against one wall. I am always aware of the soundscape, at some level. Sometimes more directly involved with its creation, sometimes a more passive listener, but never oblivious to it. My ear is constantly monitoring the timbre and pitch of the moment, even when my hands and mind are focused on writing emails, talking to kids, filing paperwork, responding to texting parents, preparing banking, sorting through and cropping photos, revising lists, heating up lunches, printing check-in lists and kid count sheets, all part of my daily life at the Center. Whether playing cribbage or bananagrams, photographing the fabulous variety of life unfolding around me or making a pot of soup for lunch with kid cooks, I am aware of the myriad sounds and textures of this environment.

Our unique soundscape here at the Center involves an ever-changing mix of human voices conveying any number of emotions, musical instruments, naturally occurring sounds from outside (wind, rain, sleet on the skylights, many and varied bird songs) and mechanical or electronic sounds (the furnace coming on, the ringing of the phone, the faint background hum of the lights, the microwave beep, and recently the sound of hammers and power tools being used to create our new room).

Each day the building comes alive first with the sound of conversation, beginning early with a few adults discussing various Center-related matters, accompanied these winter mornings by the rumble of the furnace and the creaking of the heater ducts, as the nighttime low temperature gradually becomes a higher daytime one. Sometimes it seems that the brilliant sunlight streaming in through our east-facing glass doors early in the morning adds its own hum, the light and warmth is so pronounced. In the warmer months those doors are propped open and this beginning time is underscored with the calls and songs of so many birds sharing our outside landscape, and the eventual crunch of tires on the gravel road signifying the main theme of our time together is about to begin.

The sounds of  voices gradually increase, mixing and blending as more kids and adults arrive, and the topics under discussion expand and multiply according to the relationships that are the backbone of our community. This swirl of  activity and the accompanying acoustic mix is ever shifting; my glance around the room one recent mid-day takes in two young girls in front of the couches engrossed in dolls and their clothing, four slightly older boys all participating in a four-player game of terraria on their devices, two teen boys consulting on AMC math problems at the Art of Problem Solving website on the Center computer, and eight teens plus a staff sitting around one of the long tables from where snippets of conversation about food and work, hair styles and pets, younger siblings and music,  drift to my ears.

The middle hours of the day present the most complex arrangements in our soundscape. Oftentimes a rich assortment of musical instruments will underscore the collage – guitars acoustic and electric, violins, vocals, flutes, bass, whistles, drums, saxophones, tambourines, ocarinas, French horns, keyboard notes, all at one point or another might blend with the voices of a full house of kids and adults. Urgent calls for participation in an outside game of capture the flag or back-and-forth tag or pickle rise up in the space after lunch and there is often a lull in the character and complexity of the building’s indoor soundtrack for an hour or so.

Soon enough the particular variety of sound created by the winding-down of the day starts to rise to awareness, beginning with isolated farewells, escalating to a steady stream punctuated with the nightly vacuum cleaner crescendo as our community ends another day spent together. For me, the Macomber Center soundscape is rich and deep and complex. It carries the notes of who we are as a community, how our various relationships flow and harmonize in our common space. It is a valuable auditory gauge of the satisfaction of being together, discovering and exploring paths and ideas, learning about the rhythms and tones and unique songs of those with whom we spend our days.