Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Connection Between Birds & Music

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Bird song inspires us. Who wouldn't want to be able to sing like a brown thrasher?

I grew up in a family of musicians and singers. When bird watching hit our family in the early 1970s and my mom started going out regularly with a local bird club, I had no idea of the intimate, natural connection between birds and music. Bird watching at the time was almost socially unacceptable—think Miss Jane Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies. But as we got to know more and more birders, we began to notice that many of them also had a deep love of music, or perhaps were musicians themselves.

Humans have always been inspired by the music of singing birds. And I've hypothesized that a musician's ears are naturally tuned for the sounds of nature, and vice versa.

I've always been interested in birder/musicians and have many dear friends whom I would include under this heading, including, mi esposa Julie Zickefoose, and pals Jeffrey Gordon, Joe Parisi, Chris Santella, Jessie Munson, Ernie Hoffert, John Munson, John Acorn, Patti Alleva, Jeff Bouton, Steve Carbol, Luke Dempsey, Mike DiGiorgio, Debby Kaspari, Mimi Hart, Steve McCarthy, Sheri Williamson, Tom Wood, and Jason Kessler. I could go on and on...including famous musicians rumored to be into birds such as Neil Peart of Rush, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Sir Paul McCartney, and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.

When I learned that Jonathan Meiberg, the leader of the indie-rock band Shearwater, had a serious interest in birds, I made a mental note to contact him. When I saw that the band would be passing through Ohio on its spring 2010 tour, I emailed an interview inquiry to the band's contact e-mail and was pleasantly surprised when Jonathan replied right away. We made plans to meet at The Beachland Tavern in Cleveland so I could interview Jonathan for my podcast "This Birding Life."

Shearwater's sound check.

When I got to The Beachland, the three bands on the tour—Hospital Ships, Wye Oak, and Shearwater were all loading equipment into the venue. I met Jonathan and we arranged to talk after their sound check.

The Beachland Tavern basement.

After sound check, we went downstairs to the basement and what passes for the dressing room for the bands. It was far too loud in that space for an interview with all the bustling musicians and humming equipment, so we adjourned to a small storage room. Here's a peak at it, just to give you an idea of how totally glamorous is the life of a touring rock musician.

Our interview space.

In this little storage room, with the other bands' sound checks thundering on the stage above us and the beer and soda flowing in tubes past us along one wall, headed upstairs to thirsty patrons, we had a nice hour-long chat.

You can hear the interview, which is episode 27 of This Birding Life both in the iTunes store (for free) and at TBL's home at Podcast Central. In the interview we talk about a whole array of topics, including the music-birds connection, birding on the road, on-stage hearing protection, life birds, and how attached one can become to a cheap travel guitar.

Shearwater's Jonathan Meiberg sat in for a song on Wye Oak's set.

After the interview, I headed upstairs for a quick bite and a frosty-cold glass of hoppy/malty goodness, then it was showtime, baby! Hospital Ships took the stage first and played a nice set, followed by the Baltimore-based duo Wye Oak. I really dug Wye Oak. Throughout the evening band members sat in with one another on certain songs. It was clear that these folks had lots of mutual admiration going one.

Throughout the show, the members of Shearwater switched off instruments. That's Kim on bass and Thor the drummer on clarinet.

Then Shearwater, the evening's headliner, took the stage. It was a grand show in a small venue—my favorite way to see live music. Shearwater's music defies easy categorization, though they usually get the indie-rock label. See and hear for yourself at www.shearwatermusic.com.

Jonathan Meiberg playing guitar at The Beachland Tavern.

The room was full—according to Jonathan this was their most successful Cleveland show ever! Some of the audience knew every single word of every song. After hearing the live show, I can see why Shearwater's fanbase is growing. Adding to the immense talent of the musicians in the band is the fact that they all seem to be genuinely nice. Jonathan took the time not only for our interview, but also for a half-dozen fans who wanted to chat at length with him. After several weeks of touring, that takes some patience, I would guess.

I'm not sure why there's such a connection between music and birds for so many of us. I know I could not live without both music and birds in my life. And I'm glad I don't have to.


On July 27, 2010 at 5:44 PM Jason Kessler said...

The beer was "flowing in tubes past us", yet you managed to finish the interview?


On July 27, 2010 at 7:52 PM Erik said...

Interesting podcast. Over the years I've noticed it's not just musicians but artists/creative types of all sorts who are drawn to birding. Writers, photographers, poets, painters, sculptors, etc...

One question.... I've been to the Beachland many times. What gives with all the toilet bowl cleaner on the shelf? Based on appearances I didn't think they bothered. ;-)

On July 27, 2010 at 10:27 PM Birding is Fun! said...

I too have noticed a birder/musician relationship. One great birder in Boise plays trumpet in the symphony. I play tenor sax and clarinet and I was in the big band Red Mountain Swing in the Phoenix area before I moved back to Idaho. I've met several other birders that play instruments or sing too.

On July 28, 2010 at 7:30 PM Unknown said...

Enjoyed this post! Posts like this give me exposure to cultural aspects of life that I probably would have missed otherwise.

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