Pet column: Did animals invent music? |

Pet column: Did animals invent music?

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

Study of the relationship of human and nonhuman animals and music has been taken to new levels with current research related to biology, resource management, medicine, natural history and other scientific fields. 

Music is appreciated as the international language of human beings. Bernie Krause, jazz musician and researcher, believes that music is the interspecies language as well. He has spent decades in the field proving that theory. Other researchers have contributed with studies demonstrating that animals on land and sea – from prairie dogs to whales – compose music. It is generally accepted that Mozart adapted the last movement of the Piano Concerto in G Major to match the song of his pet starling. features abstracts of animal and music studies on subjects such as species specific music, animals that “dance,” animals that “compose” and more.

Did animals teach us how to sing and dance? Krause’s new book, “The Great Animal Orchestra,” supports that they did. Krause and his colleagues believe that humans absorbed rhythms, melodies and sound arrangements from our ancestral habitat, the biophony shared with wild creatures. Our language evolved from mimicking the sounds made by nonhuman animal neighbors, leading to human music forms and ultimately to our unique form of spoken language. Since becoming a soundscape ecologist, Krause has traveled the world recording more than 15,000 animal species and 5,000 hours of natural sound. Concerned about the negative effects of human introduced sound, he discovered that Amazon rain forest dwellers navigate using the most subtle animal sounds around them for landmarks. Krause created “sound maps” to demonstrate how changes within a remote habitat affect animal communication and survival. Singing frogs use sound as shield. Krause witnessed how the roar of a jet engine in pristine wilderness leaves the frogs tragically vulnerable to predators.

Christopher Clark, director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University observes that whales have a remarkable ability to play with sounds. A male humpback may sing continuously for weeks at a time. Whales are singing less in response to unnatural underwater noise. More, it appears that their hearing is being damaged by loud, man-made sounds which drive some to strand on beaches and die. Periods of singing silence are a dramatic change which will ultimately affect the sustainability of human harvest of the ocean.

A session of an American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting on biomusic addressed: “Do musical sounds within the natural world reveal a profound bond between all living things?” The scientific journal Nature Neuroscience published breakthrough research finding the roots of music and spoken language are in the same part of the brain, not exclusive to humans. Early this year, the authors of “The Music of Nature and the Nature of Music,” published in Science magazine, concluded there may be a universal music that unites all composers, human and animal. Animal music has a more ancient origin than human language.

Experienced shelter workers and dairy farmers have long known that subdued classical music calms cats, dogs, horses and cows. Music therapy is used to treat pets with separation anxiety, thunder phobia, and other sound related reactionary behaviors. Being mindful that our pets hear more acutely than we do can improve their quality of life.

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– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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