Birds of Bowen

There are two birds I’d like you to listen for this week, one quite famous, and the other you may not have heard of.

Robin

The American Robin is not a robin at all. It was named by European settlers who thought it looked kind of, sort of, like the European red breasted Robin, except that the American Robin is a thrush, not related to the European Robin. The Robin’s beautiful song is a string of syllables that sound a little like cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up. Listen to it here.

White Crowned Sparrow

The other bird to listen for this week is the White Crowned Sparrow. Like many birds, the songs vary across the country, and even among individuals. The closest song to the one I’ve heard locally is the “Oregon” song here. What does the sparrow you hear on Bowen sound like?

Assignment

Birds have inspired composers throughout the ages, now it is your turn. Find a bird song that you particularly like (NOT just a tweet or single note), and try to play it on the piano. Don’t worry about the exact notes for now, but the rhythm and contour are important. It needn’t be a local bird, or even a bird you have heard in the wild, just something that appeals to you.

Human Music

Olivier Messiaen is one of the Twentieth Century’s most influential and brilliant composers. His influences ranged from Catholic Mysticism (he was for over 60 years the organist at  Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Paris), Gamelan music, medieval music, he was a synaesthete (saw sounds as colours), invented his own scales, was fascinated by complex mathematical rhythms, wrote his most famous piece as a prisoner of war, and the subject of the post today, loved bird song.

In Oiseax Exotiques, Messiaen transcribed North American bird songs and used them as the musical material for a concerto for piano and orchestra. Listen to this amazing piece below:

Bonus!

Take a look at this page, which has the original recordings Messiaen used, and his transcriptions of them side by side. Pretty cool!

Bonus No. 2!

Both Nova and I are quite inspired by the beauty and complexity of bird song. Nova wrote a piece inspired by the birds where we lived in Northern Alberta. Listen to an excerpt below:

 

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