Airdate: Oct 02, 2000
Scientist: Luis Baptista
Bird Song: Music
The most famous four notes in classical music may have been taken from the song of a bird. Just listen.
ambience: Dawn Chorus
"Birds have two vocal organs whereas we have only one. And the remarkable thing is birds can control each one of them separately. Very often birds can sing two unrelated songs at the same time."
According to Luis Baptista, former chairman and curator of ornithology at the California Academy of Science, bird song appeals to us because it has much in common with human music.
"For one thing, interestingly, scholars have actually found birds that sing using some of the more familiar musical scales of human music. For example, the hermit thrush actually sings in the pentatonic scale, which is the scale of Japanese and Chinese music.
ambience: Hermit thrush
"Another scholar showed that the wood thrush of eastern North America sings in the diatonic scale, which is a scale used in Western music."
ambience: Wood thrush
Many birds have songs that are structured like a sonata, providing just enough repetition and variation to be pleasing to the human ear. Some composers, such as Mozart, have incorporated specific bird songs into their work. And as Luis Baptista was fond of observing, the White-breasted wood wren may have been the inspiration for Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
music: Introduction to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony
ambience: White-breasted wood wren
This week's series of programs on bird song is dedicated to our friend Luis Baptista, an esteemed scholar of birds, who passed away recently. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.