Tuesday 20 February 2018

And for that minute a blackbird sang...

typical blackbird song phrase

This morning's Tweet of the Day on Radio 4 looked at my favourite bird - the blackbird. I agree with every word of what Professor David Rothenberg said and, being the dutiful blogger that I am, I thought I'd post a transcription of it for your delight:
The blackbird is incredibly musical and beautiful, and the best book is in Danish by Torben Dabelsteen, although most of his articles are also published in English, about the way they use sound back and forth. I believe every year they start relearning their song in that they kind-of build it up again, so towards the end of the season they're better. And yet it's so melodic, it's so much using the intervals that humans recognise as musical. And they're so different from each. Each blackbird sounds different from every other blackbird, and that's quite fascinating It's why birdsong is different from a bird call. Bird calls, you can quickly decide what they mean - this means "Watch out, a hawk is flying overhead!"; this means "I'm hungry!" - and they have very specific short meanings that are much more like words, much more like language. But these songs are more like performances. They have a beginning, a middle, an end. There's this whole emotional shape. And you can't reduce it to its function. You can't say, "I've explained the song away by saying it for attracting mates and defending territories". The musical shape and form is still there. It can't be denied. There's nothing controversial or irrational or unscientific about saying that birds are making music. It's just quite likely to be true. 
One year, only a few year's back, I would listen to a blackbird singing just on a tree or a wall near our back door and I listened as his tune got better and better as the season went on. His tune always began with the same little melodic hook and then, jazz-like, went its own sweet way. The next year he began again. The melodic hook at the start was a little more sophisticated but it was still recognisably the same tune and the improvisations thereon where unquestionably more sophisticated still. So practise makes perfect, even with blackbirds! Unfortunately, I found him dead soon after, so never found how his song developed over the course of a second year. I suppose I should have called him 'Charlie Parker' but didn't. I called him Percy. True story.

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