Sunday, July 29, 2012

Applying Musical Restraint

This morning’s air is cool and it seems every bird has answered the weather’s invitation to open in song. No cars, no joggers. Nothing stirs in this still dawn but the surround sound of feathered notes.

Later today I will practice my own music-making—a bit of Bach and Gounod on the piano. My keyboard is electric, so I take care to practice silently with the aid of some headphones. This is partially because I don’t want neighbors to hear me, but mostly it’s for the birds’ sake.

Oh, I confess: A few times when birds have perched at our feeders, I’ve played the piano out loud and enjoyed hearing birds respond to it. Major keys inspire them more than minor ones; the same for simple melodies over complex arrangements.

But I worry: What has my music communicated to the birds? Who do they think I am? I don’t wish to confuse them or frighten them or get their hopes up about a potential mate. And I absolutely don’t want to repeat the unfortunate Robin incident of my youth.

I can’t recall which sonata I was learning at the time, but it attracted a crazed fan. I played the family’s console piano then, so headphones weren’t an option.

One Spring day as I practiced this particular sonata, a THUD startled me. I quit playing and cautiously approached the window to investigate the noise. A Robin sat dazed in the pussywillow bush just beneath the window. Once I was certain he’d recovered, I returned to the piano and resumed practice.

THUD! This time, I ran to the window. There was the Robin again, only this time he lay sprawled and limp across the bush—dead for all I knew. “MOM!!” I needed assistance with this turn of events.

My parents came to my aid, but by the time my father had stepped outside and arrived at the pussywillow bush, the bird had resurrected himself and flown out to the ash tree in our yard. My mother convinced me all was fine and left me to my sonata.

This time as I played, my father watched. Turns out, the Robin would listen from the ash tree then fly pell-mell toward the source of the music. His window nemesis, of course, broke his path on each attempt. Well, on the first two attempts anyway. This third time the Robin simply perched on the bush and continued listening.

As you probably guessed, once I understood that this sonata, or my rendition of it, was causing the potentially fatal behavior of the bird, I stopped practicing it. I only hoped my music teacher would understand.

Mercifully, we’ve had no window collisions here since erecting our bird feeders, and I don’t expect any. But I still worry about giving birds the wrong impression with my music. I would hate to mislead them in any way. So as much as I’d like to join the avian chorus that sings here, I try to be the better human and refrain from participation. Sigh.

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