Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bird Calls and Birdsong in Music

One of the first sources you'll find when looking for bird information is probably this site, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It's awesome. Our favorite section was the one on bird calls and birdsongs, where you can look up individual birds and listen to their calls. We usually started here at the bird guide, where once you reach a given bird's page, you can hear its calls and songs as well as see other information about it.

I also have a really good iPad app called iBird Pro, which I got because it was on sale for .99 one time (regular price $19.99 or something)---but I love it because you can search for birds based on only what information you have ("it's brown, it's small, it's in Utah") and it has great photos and information too. And it also has bird calls to listen to. Having used it, I think I'd now pay even the $19.99 for it---it's certainly as useful as a good bird book. We'll definitely have to do another unit on birds sometime in the summer when we have more birds around (and more inclination to go out hunting for them) because it's really fun to see what we can identify.

We had a good book about the language of birds and all the different meanings they can convey through their various sounds. Fascinating!

This site has a little memory game you can play, matching birds to their songs. (It's free, but you have to create an account.)

We also listened to a bunch of classical music that incorporates birdsong (either imitative, or interpretive) and talked about why birdsong has been so inspiring to composers throughout history. I really loved doing this.  I always love it when we get to talk about something I have some background in (I love it when I get to learn something new, too, but it's just so fun to share my interests). I thought maybe I was getting a bit carried away by introducing the children to Messiaen, but they liked his music and were quite interested in his efforts to provide literal transcriptions (though transposed and adapted to the limitations of orchestral instruments) of birdsong. This isn't simple music by any means, but it's so interesting!

This site has clips from several good (and more traditional) bird-related pieces (e.g. Peter and the Wolf, Handel's Cuckoo and the Nightingale organ concerto). I also thought this was an awesome idea for a science project, but for children a bit older than mine. Still, it lists lots more ideas for music about birds!

Then I also played sections for the children from Olivier Messiaen's Réveil des Oiseaux and Oiseaux ExotiquesWhat cool, challenging music. Messiaen is quite fascinating. Did you know he came to Utah and wrote a piece called Des canyons aux étoiles… inspired by Bryce Canyon? That one has birdsongs in it too. Sebby and Abe really liked the parts of it we listened to---it's eerie and modern and very evocative.

And one more thing we did: I read the story of the Emperor and the Nightingale (Hans Christian Andersen, you know) out loud, and then we listened to the Stravinsky tone poem of the same name. (Or I guess it's called "Song of the Nightingale.") It's a great piece---not traditionally tonal, but I don't think it's one of those really strange pieces that's hard to listen to. The children were easily able to identify the "robotic" sound of the sections where the mechanical nightingale sang, and hear the more traditional beauty in the real nightingale's song. In fact, they liked the whole thing and asked to listen to it again the next day.

Oh! and then we also found a few YouTube videos of talking parrots doing amazing things like singing "How Much is that Doggie in the Window," to our great amusement. It was even funnier because most things Junie says these days sound exactly like a parrot talking. We laughed and laughed. Here are two videos we liked.

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