Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.
And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.
In a video on YouTube, a little girl sits next to a fence. On the other side of the fence there is an open field. On the far side of the field there are cows. The cows are just standing quietly and eating grass. Then the girl starts to play a little song. Immediately, the cows begin to run toward the music. They seem to want to hear more. The little girl plays the song again. The cows stand and watch her and listen quietly.
What was happening here? Do cows love music? Maybe they only like some kinds of music and not other kinds? Cows are not the only animals that react to music. Today’s Spotlight is on the relationship between animals and music.
Most people like some kind of music. But music is more than just simple sounds put together in a special order. David M. Greenberg is a music psychologist at the University of Cambridge. He explains music in two ways. In a technical way, music is just sound - the small movement of air particles. But in another way it is much more. He wrote for Psychology Today that,
“Music reaches us on intellectual, social, and emotional levels. Many people describe it as spiritual or mystical. Music can create a state of mind in the person playing and the people listening. It is difficult to describe with words. Music can show us a side of ourselves we may have long forgotten or never knew existed.”
Music with a good beat can make us feel good.
Music that is slow or set in some music keys can make us feel sad.
Some music builds and builds and can make us feel excited and full of energy.
Is this the way that animals understand music? Would a dog cry when it heard a beautiful symphony?
Or can an elephant understand the difference between hip-hop music and opera?
A dog and an elephant can make noises. But it is not music - at least not human music.
But there is an animal that makes sounds like what we might call music. It is the bird.
Hollis Taylor wrote a book called Is Birdsong Music? She spoke to The Science Show on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She says that some people do not believe birdsong is music. They say that music must be made with a purpose. But, she says:
“It is clear that animals are more intelligent than we think. Current understanding of an animal’s ability to think is always changing. A bird's brain is a complex structure that shares many similarities with ours.”
Scientists know that birds sing for important reasons. Male birds sing to find a mate. If the female likes the song, she will stop to listen. Birds also sing to tell other birds to stay away from them. They defend their homes with songs. Many birds are born knowing these tweets and calls. But other birds learn their songs from the birds around them. George Harrison wrote for the website Birds and Blooms:
“We are not sure how birds learn to sing. We do know it is part how they are born and part what they learn. Young songbirds will begin to practice their songs during their first autumn and winter. Then they sing fully during their first spring. These younger birds will hear other males and copy them. They often add a small sound of their own.”
So some birds take what they hear, repeat it, and change it a little bit. This is exactly what human musicians do. Musicians listen and learn from other musicians. Then they build on what they learned. Then they try to make something new. Birdsong may not sound like music to humans. But maybe human music does not sound like music to birds!
Around the world, music sounds very different. What sounds like beautiful music to one person may sound very bad to another person. But it is all music. And people find music all around them. Some people even find music in the sounds of whales.
Like birds, male whales sing to find a mate. But they also sing to explore the sea around them. Scientists have found that whales change the song they are singing depending on the songs of other whales around them. In the deep dark of the sea, hearing can be almost more helpful than seeing.
It is not only other whales who like whale songs. People like them too. In 1970, the singer Judy Collins added whale singing to one of her songs. The song was very successful. Many more people learned about the song of the whale.
It is clear that animals do not communicate the way people do. But they do communicate. And animals do not make music the way people do. But scientists still do not understand if animals are making music, or even if they can understand music. Ed Henderson is a farmer in Florida, in the United States. He says it does not matter what scientists say. He knows his cows love jazz music. He told Great Big Story:
“The first time the cows came I was just standing out in the backyard and playing the trombone. All the cows came up to the fence. Cows do the same thing all the time. The music is something new and that is why they like it.
My dad told me that it is important how we take care of animals. We try to take care of the land and the animals. Playing the trombone is not any different. It is all about caring for the animals. The animals care. You play music to them and they are going to remember that.”
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