Spring is in full swing in the Pacific Northwest. Rhododendrons and lilacs are blooming, hostas are stretching their shoots up like sentinels, and the trees are shedding enough pollen to cover sidewalks with a gentle yellow glow. But the most striking change over the past few weeks has been the return of the birds! As the various species return to mate and nest, their joyful sounds fill what, only a few weeks ago, were mornings of silence. Their songs are a striking addition to the more visual, horticultural, signs of new life and resurrection.
As we have journeyed through the past year of music and meditations, I trust that our listening skills have deepened and expanded. We have explored a variety of music genres and styles, and have listened for different elements of orchestral scores. We have heard choral music, solo instruments and full orchestras. You have probably have moments of relaxation and refreshment, as well as moments of surprise and wonder.
This week I want to invite you to put your headphones aside, and step outside. Although I have provided you with a few selections based on bird song, I hope that wherever you are, the birds are beginning to return and to serenade you with their twilling and chirping. Sit, or walk, and listen. What strikes you? Do you hear the sounds of new life?
Einojuhani Rautavaara, a Finnish composer, has written a work that incorporates bird song he recorded in northern Finland, and at the Arctic Circle. He combines these sounds with a lush orchestral score.
Cantus Arcticus, Op. 61 “Concerto for birds and orchestra”
Camile Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals has a well-known movement called “The Swan,” but these first two movements are also bird-themed.
Le Coucou au Fond des Bois (The Cuckoo in the Woods)
Le Cygne (The Swan)
Late 20th century composer Oliver Messian was skilled at hearing and notating birdsong, and then adding these references to his compositions. This work, written in 1952, for flute and piano is a study on the song of the Blackbird, which he wrote as an entrance piece for the Paris Conservatoire.
Le Merle Noir (The Blackbird)