Music: We all know what it is. Or do we?

Recording of Mourning Dove and Mozart C Major

Recording of Elvis the Crow from 2001

I was going to write about Music: The Great Communicator, or The Universal Language, but then it started pouring over into What Is It Anyway? Where does music come from? Why is it something we all understand? And of course if I slip into the birds’ perspective, they’ve been doing it longer than we have. But should “music” be the word for only the man-made variety, or does it encompass everything else living and breathing? I tend to think music is everywhere and it exists in places and in forms we don’t yet recognize. Since we’ve created our own brand, or our own way of making music, of course this is what the word “music” describes for us, but I suspect the basis for our musics preceded us all. The creators of the movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” perhaps acknowledged this when they had the alien spaceship land playing a musical or “universal” greeting.

My very unscientific theory is this: after the Big Bang there was a Big Chord. Whether it was a chorus of vibrations accompanied by Hollywood visuals (something akin to the aurora borealis) or a series of emanations from the vibrations produced by the Bang that descended into a chord structure and made the first music, I have no idea.

The sounds birds make, the “songbirds,” at least or the passerines, were perhaps the first creatures whose vocalizations we recognized as “songs.” Now we know insects and whales sing, and at the same time we are still perplexed because our closest relatives, the apes, don’t. Maybe that has more to do with our definition of what a “song” is. I accept the idea that birds sing, and that they’ve been communicating with their songs and calls far longer than we have been on the planet.

Right about the time I became interested in all this, I discovered a book which was compiled from presentations at the first international workshop produced by the Institute for Biomusicology in Venice, Italy, May of 1997: The Origins of Music I will return to this in later posts, but I guess I have a chicken-or-egg question: what came first, the flute or the drum? I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to make a connection between the discovery by archeologists of a most ancient flute and a desire to imitate the sounds of birds. But you can’t have music without rhythm, and maybe from the simplest act of tapping on a rock with a stick to producing more complex rhythm instruments with different tonalities that convey messages, percussion instruments evolved.

As I sit here listening to my birds carry on with WFMT in the background, I am reminded of the ceiling fan that used to be in this room which I finally removed, because it was getting to be too hard to clean and I could never turn it on with the birds flying around. There was a pull chain that made a musical sound when it struck against one of the glass light fixtures on the fan. My budgies used to enjoy playing it along with the music. I recall their playing was always in key. 

Attached are a couple excerpts from my past of wild birds singing along with the music. Elvis the crow was accompanied by my first two budgies, to whom I was talking briefly, it’s the Bach E major prelude, first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. And the mourning dove has come in at the end of the first movement of a Mozart C Major sonata (I presently forget which one) and sings off and on through the adagio: note how he waits to come in with his song.

2 thoughts on “Music: We all know what it is. Or do we?

  1. Hi Lisa,
    I wonder if the first Big Chord caused the big bang, sort of the percussion with the flute?
    I’m enjoying your blog.
    love and peace,
    karen

  2. Hi Karen,
    I could see the chord building up so much resonance for it to cause the Bang!
    Thanks so much for your support,
    Do you remember when I first discovered birds, you told me they would become a big part of my life? I think you must have told the birds too!!

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