Tag Archives: Bird song

Afghan perceptions of birdsong

afghan dove

The importance of birds and bird song in Afghan culture is embedded in Afghanistan’s two official languages—Dari and Pashto—in which the nightingale, a central poetic symbol, occurs in texts sung by urban and rural singers.

The songs of particular birds are associated with calls to prayer, and mullahs confirm that birdsong is regarded within Sufism as a form of religious singing; birds are welcomed at Sufi shrines, where feeding them is considered an act of piety.

Sometimes caged birds are brought to musical performances in Herāt, and when they are stirred to sing by hearing music their sounds are heard as an integral and treasured part of the performance.

This according to “Afghan perceptions of birdsong” by John Baily (The world of music XXXIX/2 [1997] pp. 51–59).

Above, an Afghan dove with a friend; below, feeding the doves in Mazār-i-Sharīf.

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Avian music culture

The vocalizations of the pied butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) include calls (e.g., food begging [above], alarms, cat scolding), calls incorporated into songs, and pure songs. The latter category may include melismas, ostinatos, transpositions, inversions, variations, and rhythmic effects such as additive and divisive patterns.

Cultural manifestations include duets, antiphonal and canonic effects, and unisons. They also mimic other birds and unexpected sources such as dogs, cats, humans, and machines.

This according to “Decoding the song of the pied butcherbird: An initial survey” by Hollis Taylor (TRANS: Revista transcultural de música/Transcultural music review XII [July 2008]). Below, a pied butcherbird duet followed by a solo.

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Baroque birdsong

Along with its wide-ranging discussions of theoretical topics, the 1650 treatise Musurgia universalis by the German Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680) includes what may be the first transcriptions of bird songs.

The illustration gives the nightingale’s song followed by those of the chicken, the cuckoo, the quail, and the parrot; the latter says χαίρε (“hello”). Vox cuculi is notated as the familiar falling minor third heard in cuckoo clocks (see below).

A facsimile edition of the treatise has been issued by Georg Olms (Hildesheim, 1970; reprinted 2006).

Related article: Athanasias Kircher’s global reach

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