You might have seen it if you are a PBS watcher. I am referring to one of their “get inspired” ads in which a frustrated composer sits at his piano among a pile of crumpled music. He can’t quite seem to find the right notes. Outside his studio window a flock of pigeons land on the power lines. Looking up from his work, the fellow visualizes the birds as notes arranged on a staff. He pounds out some tentative notes mimicking the arrangement of the birds and – voila! – he has the elusive beginnings for his score.
Although the PBS commercial is a fictional scenario, the history of music is full of such natural inspirations. Usually the inspiration comes from another sound – such as the supposed use of the White-throated Wren’s song for the legendary four note introduction of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. I say “supposed”, of course, because I can’t quite remember if that incident was real or made up during one of my “Corn Nut Dementia” periods. But, my point is that nature can inspire.
Coming off the dikes at Pointe Mouillee the other day, I was inspired by the sight of a line of perfectly spaced gulls perched on a branch in the river. The Ring-billed Gulls were so neatly arranged that they were easily imagined as notes in a music score. Unfortunately, due my lack of music transcription skills, that particular inspiration would have died on the spot – it would have remained a visual inspiration only. Fortunately I have a daughter, Katelyn, who is an orchestra teacher and violinist, so I was able to act on my whim. I shot a picture of the gulls and sent it to her via e-mail with a challenge: “Can you make this into music?” She did.
Gulls, of course, are not notes. It took a musical eye to morph some into whole notes and some into half notes. All of them were whole birds – none were quarter or half specimens of their breed. The tempo, key, and bowing all had to be determined since the birds themselves were only place-holding. “I started with the first bird in A major,” she said, “and went from there.” In the situations where two birds perched directly over each other, the dual notes are played as “double-stops.”
The result is a wonderful mini-arrangement of 21 gulls into seven measures of music. “Gulls” by Katelyn M. Wykes is only a snippet. It is not a whole movement or symphony, but it could be (after all look at what Beethoven did – I think). One can only imagine what could be done with a continuation of the theme and the addition of some orchestration?
At this point, none of this fancy stuff is necessary, however. This, ladies and gentlemen, is raw music straight out of nature. The only thing left to do is to listen to the music (listen here) and be inspired.