The Musical Talents of Animals

Mozart was one of the few who actually gave birds credit. His beloved pet starling was a great muse to him. While composing his “Piano Concerto in G Major,” Mozart noticed his starling singing along and imitating his piano. Mozart liked the imitation better than than original tune, so he changed it. He wrote, in reference to his bird’s addition, “That was beautiful!” When the bird died in 1784, it had a proper funeral with hymns sung at the graveside.

Composers aren’t the only people who have recognized birds as the musical virtuosos of the animal kingdom. Baptista recently discovered bird vocalizations are stored in specific parts of their brains, usually the left hemisphere.

“These are reminiscent of regions in the human brain where speech is stored,” says Baptista. Calling someone a “bird brain” might not be such an insult.

Other Singers Like a scene out of Disney’s Fantasia, scientists are learning that most creatures express themselves in song and music.

Most of us are familiar with the haunting songs of whales. Researchers have learned that such song stylings are structured in distinct phrases presented in an orderly fashion. Many of the phrases appear to rhyme, and are memorized by members of whale groups. New compositions are created every season.

Until recently, elephants were thought of as the big, strong and silent type, with just the occasional snort and loud call. Now, advances in sound technology allow researchers to hear what they’ve been missing. Katy Payne, senior researcher at the Ornithological Laboratory at Cornell University, has recorded elephant sounds, then shifted the frequencies into a range audible to the human ear. As it turns out, elephants are actually “singing” to each other at ultralow frequencies.

Payne, Baptista, and others hope that biomusic will not only teach children and others to respect and appreciate nature, but that will also help save music education in schools by connecting it with science.

As Gray says, “Perhaps biomusic will help us to better hear the big picture.”

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