Music for Animals

The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular published a short article titled “Music for Animals” in 1897. The article discussed various animals’ tastes in music–from dogs and elephants to lions and rats. There was a zoo elephant in Paris who had her own concert, a nobleman who hired an orchestra to play for his horses and lots of dogs who howled along with the piano.

Playing music for other animals isn’t anything new. As long as humans and other animals have lived together, I imagine that we’ve interacted with each other using music. There are the flutes of snake charmers, the melodies of milk maids, the songs of shepherds. And yet today, in the United States anyway, ‘music for animals’ most often means a CD you put on the stereo when you’ve left the house so that your dog or cat or parrot feels calm. They are mostly Mozart or Bach or instrumental.

I never really bought the idea that nonhumans only like classical music though. Individual animals have tastes, just like we do. There is likely no “music for dogs” just as there is no “music for humans.” There are things we can hear and certain decibel levels that hurt our ears–but beyond that, species level music doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

I also got curious about what it would be like to play shows for animals who are normally shows themselves. What might we learn about them as individuals? What might we learn about us?

Nothing exposes the limits of the human imagination more than imagining what it is like to be someone else. Particularly if that someone else is nonhuman.

With this in mind, I have been putting together a series of concerts for other animals.

Check out the BBC’s coverage of the project.

Grass Widow played for the gorillas at Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.

Jason Holt of Spectrum played for sea lions on a public pier north of Monterey. Pete Frauenfelder of Trainwreck Riders and Slow Motion Cowboys played for Mac, a lonely miniature donkey in Southern California. Good Shield Aguilar played for the bison of Golden Gate Park.

Right now I am planning shows for hyenas, dogs, raccoons, rats and more….and am seeking funding to bring Ian Svenonius/Chain and the Gang to Russia to play for bears in rehab…

Spectrum to play for giraffes…

Abigail Washburn to play for orangutans…

…and Robert Vijay Gupta to play for whales…

I’m not the first person to do this. Check out Jim Nollman’s work with whales (among other species), David Rothenberg‘s bird and whale collaborations, and Laurie Anderson’s canine concerts in Sydney and NYC. There has even been some research. Scientists at University of Wisconsin-Madison did this experiment on tamarins and music and found that, perhaps not surprisingly, they prefer music that drew from their own emotive calls. Though they also liked Metallica. And in Hong Kong, 20,000 chickens listen to a mix of classical, jazz, rap and Cantopop (Cantonese pop music) every day.

I prefer Michael Hurley.

(Photos from top: Pete playing for Mac the miniature burro; Grass Widow the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston playing for gorillas; Hannah Lew, Lily Maring, and Raven Mahon interact with Kiki and her newborn baby Kambari; Kit looking at the drum kit; Mac preferred bluegrass standards; Bison in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Good Shield Aguilar playing for the bison; Jason Holt playing for sea lions at Moss Landing in Northern California.)

17 Comments on “Music for Animals

  1. Pingback: Video: Grass Widow Plays Music for Gorillas at the Zoo « The FADER

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  11. Hi Laurel! Thanks for all the amazing work you are doing…love music for animals! My friend Mogley from the Buffalo Field Campaign passed your link onto me. So happy Goodshiled played for the bison in GGP…i always felt bad for them, especially after being in Montana and seeing them roaming free (sort-of).

    Mogley said you just got back from India where you were working with rescued street elephants! Please tell me more! I leave for India in 5 days and would love to know if I can help out. I will also be in Thialand after India and am planning to visit the Elephant Nature Park…was happy to see that listed on your blog!

    Cheers,
    Kody

  12. “The Story of the Weeping Camel” is a documentary about a mother camel who rejects her baby and the people who try everything, finally music, to encourage her to accept him. Thought you’d want to know if you haven’t already seen it, it’s very touching.

  13. Sara! Only my favorite people know about that film. I haven’t watched it yet. It’s at the top of my list. I WOULD want to know. You are right. Thanks for visiting. xo

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  15. Pingback: VIDEO | Grass Widow play to gorillas in a zoo | wears the trousers magazine :: a women in music compendium

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  17. Thank you for this amazing information. I run a non-profit organization through Berklee College of Music (The Movement @ Berklee) dedicated to providing volunteer opportunities through music within our community of Boston. I’ve been hoping to incorporate animal volunteering and shelter work into our repertoire. Thank you thank you thank you!!!

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