Since a young age I have enjoyed the brilliance of music composed by “The Greats” – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Bartók and so on.
More recently I have also started to enjoy the singing of gorillas. Their catalogue of recordings for New Scientist on SoundCloud is something very special, not least because of their spontaneous outburst of expression – usually food related.
Of course it takes a seasoned expert to realise that gorillas don’t all sing from the same hymn sheet, or rehearse an established canon of classics. One such expert is quoted in this article from New Scientist. Eva Leuf of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (it’s a real place – I checked) in Seewiesen, Germany explains:
“They don’t sing the same song over and over. It seems like they are composing their little food songs.”
New Scientist also quote Ali Vella-Irving, who looks after gorillas at Toronto Zoo in Canada:
“Each gorilla has its own voice: you can really tell who’s singing. And if it’s their favourite food, they sing louder.”
A separate study has identified the musical adventures of the Gracixalus tree frogs, who live in the evergreen forests in the mountains of north and central Vietnam, and are known to woo females with their original compositions, a bit like Sting.
But – according to this article, also from New Scientist –
“These are not your average frogs, croaking out the same old tunes. Gracixalus frogs shuffle notes to compose a new melody every single time they sing.
They randomly mix high-pitched, long notes called “whistles” with short, sharp “clicks” to compose new tunes.
Each song is unique in its complexity, duration, amplitude, frequency and structure, as opposed to being specific to an individual or a species as it is in most frogs.”
And according to Dr. Jodi Rowley from the Australian Museum Research Institute :
“For some reason, they are saying more than your average frog.”
All of which, it seems to me raises a fairly important question for musicians:
Are YOU saying more than your average frog?
Now, I’m no scientist, but I would like to posit the following hypotheses:
- Frogs don’t have family members who mock them for singing like … frogs.
- Gorillas don’t have piano teachers who rebuke them for deviating from the score.
- Most of the creatures of the animal world have no hang ups at all about expressing themselves in totally natural (and musical) ways
- Humankind have created such an artificial construct around “music” that we are no longer able to express ourselves instinctually.
Those of us who have the joy of playing the piano should probably now find a few moments when nobody else is around, experiment with the many sounds we can make with our bodies and voices, and then see what amazing sounds we can also find on a piano.
These are the tools of our expression. What will we make with them?
Be encouraged by the example of gorillas and frogs. Don’t let others tell you what you can and cannot express in your music.
Find your own voice, and let it SING.