The Original Budgie

On my way to Wherever this weekend I grabbed a couple older tapes to listen to in the car, just to see what was going on at the time. No, I’m not kidding, my car is that old. And the tape player is on the fritz but every once in a while if I’m not going too fast I can listen to a tape if I crank the volume all the way up.

I had previously labeled the tapes notable for the vocalizations of the original male budgie Pete, a beautiful little green and yellow guy, the adopted bird who came with Blanche. When these recordings were made, I had only the two budgies, Pete and Blanche, maybe five or eight (by then) zebra finches, Fabrizio and Serafina being the originals, and the two original Spice Finches, Hidalgo and Sam, and Jules and Sophia, the two females I got when Sam turned out to be a male. I wasn’t sure of Jules so I gave her a name that could go either way. But that’s another story for a later post.

Hidalgo, the Caruso of Spice Finches, was on both tapes, and it’s probably his fault that I wasn’t listening to Pete the budgie when I played them in the car. I wonder if perhaps I have heard so many budgies since him I don’t have an ear for listening anymore. But when I listened back through headphones while trying to make clips from these tapes, I realized he sounds entirely different from the budgies that have all grown up in the house and are related to Zeke, the gray-blue budgie who still lives.

I play a little game with myself sometimes, when I’m in the kitchen and a budgie flies in, I don’t turn around to see who it is before I try to guess based on the sound of the patter. I’m right about 99% of the time, and I don’t know how I do it. If you asked me to tell you the difference between one budgie’s song and another’s, I couldn’t do it. But something in the pattern must be different enough that I recognize it, albeit unconsciously. Such is the thing with Pete’s song. The sounds are familiar, but the cadence is different. And I remember distinctly that after he died and Blanche was left alone, she sat around and sang his songs as if to recreate his presence, a fitting eulogy for her old friend. That was before she gave me the “If you think I’m going to sit here alone and be amused by these finches laying eggs and having babies, you’ve got another thing coming” ultimatum, which sent me to the pet store for Another Budgie.

So this clip has a couple of solos by Hidalgo and then Pete is singing with an almost passable version of the Adagio to Mozart’s C Major Sonata K 310, until I flub the very end of it. There are contributions from a zebra finch or two. I suspect the zebra finch songs have gained differentiation and complexity over the years. I’m sorry I did not keep a detailed family tree; I don’t think I was aware I was running an experiment until years after it started. I know I didn’t pay attention to the zebra finch songs until long after I noticed they were all different. I hope after I identify all the zebra finch songs I can make more sense out of their progression.

At any rate it seems I was still practicing the Goldberg, and it had to have been a once-a-week run-through at the time, so a haphazard rendition of the aria and the first few variations appears here until the phone rings. I did go back to playing but it was hard for us all to get back in the groove after the interruption; in particular we lost Pete. Here Pete adds constant comment and Hidalgo throws in his two cents among several zebra finch vocals. Note how Hidalgo always sings his long “mwah mwah” notes in key with the music.

Aria to the Goldberg

In a rare moment of organization, I labeled part of a tape on which I found this recording of the Aria of the Goldberg Variations and the first variation as made on May 9, 2001. There’s no significance to the date other than the fact that I wrote it down. I would have been able to tell from the quality of the recording and the background noise (a leaf blower was prominent on the first part of the tape) that it was recorded back at my old apartment. So the sound quality isn’t superb. But there’s a few nice singers.

There’s a House Finch singing right off the top, and then a White-Throated Sparrow seems to be trying out his song here and there throughout the rest of the aria and the first variation. At the end of the first variation, a chorus of House Sparrows cheers. At least they sound cheery.

I found this House Finch picture while I was waiting to make the MP3 file.

Male House Finch

And a picture of a White-Throated Sparrow taken in the spring, when he’s more likely to be singing.

White-Throated Sparrow

Listening back to the Goldberg I’m reminded of the first time I saw Vladimir Feltsman play it at Symphony Center. Not because I sound anything like him, but how much easier it was to play the first variation after observing his fingering.

Back to the “chorus” at the end. Here’s a picture of a House Sparrow. These birds are maligned and disrespected in this country for their uncanny ability to live better among us than the native species. But it was their welcoming attitude toward me that got me started observing birds, and I can’t totally write them off. You can learn a lot about bird behavior, and maybe even human behavior, if you hang out with these guys for a while. They are the ultimate opportunists.

Male House Sparrow