For those who can read music, the Field Book of Wild Birds and their Music by composer and naturalist F. Schuyler Mathews is a real treat (the book was first published in 1904). Mathews worked very hard at converting the songs of our native birds into musical nomenclature, with varying degrees of success. One species with songs that translated pretty well is the Hermit Thrush. Mathews deciphered dozens of different song patterns, comparing certain ones to themes in classical music (such as the wild movement that opens the finale in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata).
My friend John Greenly, a Cornell physicist, musician, and birdwatcher, took on the task of playing some of Mathews’ transcriptions on his clarinet, with piano accompaniment by Bill Cowdery. I recorded their effort and then mixed it with a background of Hermit Thrush songs and a babbling brook (I love those babbling brooks!). The result is quite interesting. It is straightforward musically, but powerful in its naked simplicity—a relaxed and heartfelt tribute to one of our most beautiful avian songsters:
Clarinet interpretations of Hermit Thrush music as transcribed by F. Schuyler Mathews. John Greenly on clarinet and Bill Cowdery on piano. Nature sounds and final mix by Lang Elliott.
Pretty sweet, huh? Below is Schuyler’s musical score, with sections numbered to reflect the sequence in which John plays them.