Music of the Birds

Music of the Birds
A Celebration of Bird Song

Includes audio compact disc featuring songbird concerts and solos
by Lang Elliott, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999, 136 pages, $25.00

A book published a few months before the symposium, Music of the Birds, A Celebration of Bird Song, by Lang Elliott, includes a compact disk giving clear reproductions of each of the singers' voices as well as color photographs of each of the bird species captured with open beaks, pouring forth their individual songs. Elliott knows the characteristics of a vast number of bird songs and approaches silently to portray each bird as he sings. Together with the beautiful color photographs, Elliott quotes poets who have written about denizens of North American woods and fields.

Beside a photograph of a Yellow Warbler, William Wordsworth is quoted:

The birds pour forth their souls in notes
Of rapture from a thousand throats.

A photograph of a Scarlet Tanager (photo left) is accompanied by Geoffrey Chaucer's:

Hard is the hert that loveth nought,
In May, when al this mirth is wrought,
When he may on these braunches here
 The smale briddes syngen clere
 Her blesful swete song pitous…

Elliott writes: "Bird song preceded human music. Considered from a scientific perspective, it evolved with the appearance of songbirds during the Pliocene and early Pleistocene periods, several million years ago." His words are illustrated by a photograph of a Wood Thrush.

Elliott chooses Ralph Waldo Emerson's words to illustrate his picture of a Black-capped Chickadee:

There is no sorrow in thy song, no winter in thy year.

The Skylark of Europe inspired Shelley's famous poem, "To a Skylark:"

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still doth soar, and soaring ever singest.

Opposite the photograph of another sweet singer, the Gray Catbird (photo right), James Russell Lowell is quoted:

As a twig trembles, which a bird
Lights on to sing, then leaves unbent,
So is my memory thrilled and stirred:—
I only know she came and went.

Robert Louis Stevenson was chosen to comment on photographs of Warblers and a Carolina Chickadee:

My bedroom, when I awoke this morning, was full of birdsongs, which is the greatest pleasure in life.

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