Is music something we share with the animal kingdom? Or did they first introduce us to music? This is the musical chicken-or-egg question, and I might just lay my bet on the animals.
From singing whales in the seas to birds in the trees, frogs on a log to crickets in a fog, the music of the natural world surrounds us. Man imitates these sounds and rhythms and calls it music. They say we stole fire from the gods, and we should also ‘fess up that we stole music from the animals. Maybe it’s time to give credit where credit is due. Camille Saint-Saens certainly did in Carnival of the Animals, and so should we.
If you need convincing, check out these musical critters:
Snowball, the dancing cockatoo, shares the stage with a less rhythmic species of scientists at the World Science Festival 2009. Then discover how Snowball has changed the way neuroscientists understand music (NY Times, May 31, 2010).
The smallest feline is a masterpiece." (Leonardo da Vinci). And prodigy cat Nora composes at the piano, with a keen ear for rhythm and a sensitive touch for dynamics.
Music hath charms to soothe the savage “beast.” Watch this dog play and sing the blues. (Eat your heart out, Bessie Smith!)
For more beastly music, see:
Carnival of the Animals DVD. St.-Saens’ musical salute to “feathers, fur, and fin” with the humorous verse of Ogden Nash, and a live youth orchestra joined by animals from the San Diego Zoo.
Wildlife Symphony DVD. Animal “choreography” to classical works.
The Songs of Wild Birds by Lang Elliott. Over 50 native birds, including songbirds and lesser-known birds that make curious, bizarre sounds. Color photos, interesting bird stories, sonagrams that show phonetic and visual representation of their songs, and a 65-min. CD of all birds, narrated by the author. Paperback and CD
Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of the Natural World by Bernie Krause. Discover nature’s music and learn how to make your own field recordings. Tips on inexpensive equipment, methods, and WHY we need to preserve these "biosymphonies." Includes a 55-min. CD sound safari, with singing ants, shifting sand dunes, creature choruses, baboon duets, & more. Paperback and CD.
The Book of Music and Nature. This innovative collection includes classic texts on music and nature, essays, fiction, plus a CD of natural sounds (from Pygmy music to butterflies) and music reflecting nature by Pauline Oliveros, Brian Eno, & others. 260 pp. Paperback
Music of the Birds: A Celebration of Bird Song by Lang Elliott. Beautiful photographs, inviting text, bird poetry and prose by Shakespeare, Dickinson, Wordsworth, and more, plus a joyous CD of songbird symphonies and solos. Paperback and CD.