Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Non-Human Music

I found this site amusing, it surprised me that scientists were this slow to discover that other mammals besides humans were capable of reproducing musical "rhythms." I've had discussions with ethnomusicologists who insist that music is exclusive to humans. I am not convinced.

Many animals in nature sing, but we humans have arbitrarily decided that only we can produce this narrowly defined concept we refer to as music. At least, that's what scientists would have us believe. My personal experience has proven to me that this is wrong. I've always known that some animals love to sing, and I've had wonderful duets with dogs I've owned. Coyotes often get together to have a choral sing-along in the evenings. I remember hearing them while hiking in the Chilcotin. Some people find these choral fests eerie or freightening. I've always loved the sound - to quote Bram Stoker "Listen to them -the children of the night. What sad music they make." The English word "coyote" in fact, is derived from the same Spanish word, which itself was borrowed from the Aztec word "c├│yotl" which means "singing dog".

I used to volunteer at the Aquarium many years ago, and I remember one morning, as I was cleaning a window with a squeegy, a whale came up to the glass and started singing. This was not all that unusual. What was different was that she started to sing in a pitch very similar to the sound of the squeegy. So I started making the squeegy pulse - skree- skree-skree. And she repeated this same pattern. Cool! I thought. So then I started playing the 1812 Overture with the squeegy. Amazingly, the whale reproduced the tune reasonably closely. We just stared at each other for a few moments after that in silence. My friend Tony and I quit volunteering shortly after that - keeping whales in captivity is wrong for so many reasons, but for me it was that one event that changed everything. Whale songs are nothing new, but this whale was singing my song.

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