The Human Side of Animals: Chapter 2 – Animal Musicians

The Human Side of Animals: Chapter 2 - Animal Musicians
The Human Side of Animals by Royal Dixon is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here: [LINK TO TABLE OF LINK]. Chapter II – The Human Side of Animals


"Nay, what is Nature's self,
But an endless strife towards
Music, euphony, rhyme?"
The great thinkers of the age believe that the world is one marvellous blending of innumerable and varied voices. This unison of sound forms the great music of the spheres, which the poets and philosophers have written so much about. Even from a purely scientific point of view, there is no denying that this music exists. Aviators tell us that when they listen from a distance to the myriads of noises and sounds that arise over a great city, these are all apparently lost in a modulated hum precisely like the vibrations of an immense tuning-fork, and appearing as but a single tone. Thus the immense noise going from our world is musically digested into one tone, and the aviator soaring above the earth hears only the one sound—the music of the spheres.
The deep appreciation that animals have for music is becoming a generally known fact among those who have studied them closely. Every one must admit that there is much truth in the old saying that "music hath charms to soothe the savage breast." Music is composed of vibrations, which act with great power upon the nervous system of men and animals alike. Each is affected according to his particular physical and mental development.
Professor Tarchanoff has made a careful study of the influence of music upon men and animals. He has demonstrated, by means of a machine which carefully registers the various activities of the hands and fingers, that when the hands are so tired and fatigued that they cannot make any marks except a straight line on the cylinder which registers the movements, music will so stimulate the nerves as to cause all fatigue to disappear. And as soon as the fingers again touch the cylinder, they begin to draw lines of various kinds and heights, thus proving that the music had rested the fingers and placed them under control. Various kinds of music were used: that of a melancholy nature had precisely the opposite effect to that of a lively, cheerful character; the nerves of the hands could either be contracted or expanded according to the nature of the music.
Like all real scientists, Professor Tarchanoff does not claim to give any positive explanation of these facts. He believes, however, that the voluntary muscles act in the same relation to the music as the heart—that is, that cheerful, happy music affects the excito-motor nerves, sets up a vibration in those nerves which produces cheer and good feeling; while sad, morbid music plays along the depressant nerves and produces sadness and depression.
In view of these facts, it is easy to see how animals, with their nervous temperaments and ready response to outside stimuli, are greatly influenced by various kinds of music. It is scientifically recognised that music tends to increase the elimination of carbonic acid and increases not only the consumption of oxygen, but even the activities of the skin. There is no doubt that good music at meal time aids the digestion.
American Museum of Natural History, New York


Cats have a species of unbeautiful music all their own, generally produced at late hours of the night on the house tops, garden walls, and in the alleys of our dwellings. Miss Cat's songs are far too chromatic to be appreciated by human ears; as a result her concertos and solos are rarely spoken of by human critics. However, Nature does sometimes produce a Tetrazzini, Alice Neilson, or Caruso, in the form of a cat, which really delights in harmonious combinations of sound. I know, for instance, of a cat called "Nordica" owned by Presson Miller, who apparently takes the greatest delight in hearing good vocal and instrumental music. Another well-educated musical cat belongs to a friend who plays a guitar. This cat delights in touching the strings with his dainty, soft paws, and springs with delight as the notes are produced.
The Animal World speaks of five musical cats, which were carried to various parts of the world and exhibited as "bell-ringers," and their owner made a fortune out of their concerts. Five bells were suspended from a hoop, which hung above the stage, and to each bell was attached a small rope. At a given signal, each cat would seize a bell and give it a pull. This was done with such perfect time and spirit that one might well believe it was the work of human musicians and not of cats.
Cows are responsive to certain kinds of music. A funeral march makes them sad, and ragtime so disturbs them that they give but little milk. The newspapers claim that Charles W. Ward, who owns a ranch near Eureka, California, says that the right kind of music will increase the production of milk, and that he uses a phonograph in the dairy barn.
A friend, who has travelled much, tells the story of a musical cow. He, in company with two other friends, was coming up a river in a small boat singing. Just as they turned a bend, they saw a small brown cow, suckling her calf, along with several other cows in a nearby pasture. The cow seemed so fascinated with the music that she plunged into the water and waded up to her head trying to reach the boat. As they rowed along, she ran up and down the bank, cutting capers in a most astonishing manner and lowing and bellowing in testimony of her delight in the music. She would leap, skip, roll on the grass, paw up the earth, like an angry bull, and chase off like a playful kitten, always with a low plaintive bellow as a final farewell. These friends often rowed up the river just to see if the musical cow was there, and she always greeted them in the usual appreciative manner.
Lions and tigers are proverbially fond of music. Professional trainers tell us that these animals, when tamed, will not do their stunts without the accompaniment of music. The story is told of a group of tigers which recently refused to perform, because the musicians, while the performance was going on, went on a strike. At once when the music ceased, the animals returned to their respective seats and no amount of encouragement would induce them to continue their performance. No amount of threats would induce them to work without music. The trainer dared not punish them too severely, yet he feared that if they were not forced to perform, they might continue to strike. But such was not the case, for on the morrow when the musicians returned they acted as never before.
Sheep, both tame and wild, are exceedingly fond of music, and the shepherds of Scotland have used it with their sheep for ages. When the shepherd plays upon his flute or bagpipe, they gather around him and listen apparently with great satisfaction; when the music ceases, they wander out to feed, and in the evening he leads them home by the single strains of his flute.
Circus horses are not only fond of music, but are partial to certain tunes, and demand that these be played while they are doing their turn. If for any reason the band changes the tune during a performance, they immediately refuse to go on with their stunts.
The original fountain of all music was based on the various voices and sounds of animals—and each musical instrument was originally devised to imitate these sounds. For all instruments—the bass drum, flute, clarinet, trombone, trumpet, violin, and even pipe organ—an animal may be mentioned that owns the fundamental tones in its voice, and which man has imitated. Castanets, for example, were imitations of the rattlesnakes; the first musical instruments of any savage tribe of men are made so as to represent the voices of the chief animals of that particular locality.
Every animal of the higher order, with the exception of a few mute dogs that belong to very hot or cold climates, is possessed of some sort of musical tone, expressive of pain or joy, and by means of which he can express certain emotions. Darwin claimed that the voice of the gibbon, while extremely loud, was very musical; and Waterhouse said that this musician sang the scale with considerable accuracy, at least sufficiently well for a trained violinist to accompany him.
Often when dogs hear music they howl, or attempt to sing. Some show a decided preference for certain kinds of music, and actually try to imitate it. Gross tells of a friend of his who had a dog with which he often gave performances. The dog would accompany his master, when he sang in falsetto, with howls that were unmistakably attempts at singing, and which readily adapted themselves to the pitch of the tone. This was a musical accomplishment of which he was very proud.
On a subject of which so little is known, there are, of course, diverse opinions. Scheitlin believed that music is actually disagreeable to a dog, but he says that it may be questioned whether or not the dog does not in some way accompany it. And Romanes, the great animal authority, thought the same thing. He had a terrier, which accompanied him when he sang, and actually succeeded in following the prolonged notes of the human voice with a certain approximation to unison. Dr. Higgins, a musician, claimed that his large mastiff could sing to the accompaniment of the organ.
Alix gives such positive examples that they are really marvellous: "Pere Pardies cites the case of two dogs that had been taught to sing, one of them taking a part with his master. Pierquin de Gembloux also speaks of a poodle that could run the scale in tune and sing very agreeably a fine composition of Mozart's My Heart It Sings at Eve." All the scientists in Paris, according to the same authority, went to see the dog belonging to Dr. Bennati, and hear it sing the scale, which it could do perfectly.
Monkeys and apes most nearly approximate human musicians. In central Africa these animal tribes have musical centres where they congregate regularly for "concerts." Prof. Richard S. Garner, the noted authority on apes and monkeys, believes that the time has already come for the establishment of a school for their education. He would have the courses beginning with a kindergarten and advancing through as many grades as the students required. Prof. Garner furthermore believes that we have little understanding of the gorilla, and points out that these animals have a very happy and harmonious home life, the father being highly domestic and delighting in the company of his wife and children. It is not uncommon to find five or six generations in a certain district of the jungle.
Their near kin, the chimpanzees, are equally clannish, but more musical. They come down from the branches of the trees, seating themselves on the dry leaves and assembling like an orchestra. After all are ready, they begin beating the leaves with their hands, at first very slowly, like the quiet prelude to a symphony, and gradually increasing in tempo until the grand crescendo is reached. Then, as if by the direction of an invisible leader, the music suddenly ceases. To deny that this is to them a real concert would lead us into extreme absurdities. In this connection it is interesting to note that when a baby is expected in the village, all music ceases until after its birth, when they again resume their periodic musical festivals. Hensel verifies this observation, and tells us of having seen apes come from their shelter in the early morning and congregate for a musical concert. "They repair," he says, "to the shelter of some gigantic monarch of the forest whose limbs offer facilities for walking exercises. The head of the family appropriates one of these branches and advances along it seriously, with elevated tail, while the others group themselves about him. Soon he gives forth soft single notes, as the lion likes to do when he tests the capacity of his lungs. This sound, which seems to be made by drawing the breath in and out, becomes deeper and in more rapid succession as the excitement of the singer increases. At last, when the highest pitch is reached, the intervals cease and the sound becomes a continuous roar, and at this point all the others, male and female, join in, and for fully ten seconds at a time the awful chorus sounds through the quiet forest. At the close the leader begins again with the detached sounds."
Perhaps the most remarkable evidence of animals showing a comprehensive intelligence of musical pitch is demonstrated by cavalry horses. That they thoroughly understand it is clearly demonstrated by the fact that they will obey the calls of the bugle for cavalry evolutions without a moment's hesitation and with no suggestion from outside sources. These bugle calls are produced by a combination of four notes, each of a different pitch, and it is rarer to find a horse making a mistake in the musical orders given than it is for their masters.
Rats and mice have a decided liking for music, as is attested by the fact that they appear as uninvited guests and also come as near the performer as possible. Mice, one would believe, love church music, for they often build their nests in pipe organs, thus being able to rear their children in both a musical and religious atmosphere! There is more truth than imagination in the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, which illustrates how they respond to the simple charms of music.
Even donkeys betray tendencies toward musical efforts, and seem to be aroused by music at least temporarily to a higher mental plane than Balaam was inclined to ascribe to his wise ass. Not all of them sing equally well, but in Arizona the donkey is known as the "desert canary." If you were to spend a few glorious days in the Hopi village of Araibi, you would hear through the still, silent night their long nasal bray or song, and you would be convinced that the term is quite appropriate. You may not exactly like the tune, but you will concede that they sing!
Society is just awakening to the joy and the significance of community art. This is everywhere indicated by the great growing group of people who come together for a common music, either as a chorus or an orchestra or both. But in this field man has not yet attained such unity of communal effort as have the frogs. In the great swamps of the world myriads of them gather from miles around, conscious of one purpose, and by a marvellous understanding and co-operation create for themselves a symphony with beauties and harmonies of its own, and such as to stand unrivalled in man's musical world. In the great chorus are voices from the lowest bass of the croaking bullfrog, squatting in the marshes, to the myriads of tiny green tree tenors, between which are millions of altos, contraltos, sopranos, coloraturas and other voices not yet in our musical vocabulary. These are accompanied by all the sounds of our orchestra and innumerable others of such delicate shades and gradations as to defy the ear of man. If we listen to one of these concerts, we will quickly recognise the tones of every familiar instrument, such as the drum, pipe, horn, trombone, oboe, piccolo, 'cello, and violin. The greatest of these musical festivals directly precedes the mating season, and is a dramatic instance of a manifestation of an inner rhythm which corresponds to an external periodicity.
Among the oldest traditions of the Eastern world are those of snake-charming by means of music. I have long been interested in this strange phenomenon of Nature, and in company with a brilliant young violinist visited a zoological park recently, and after securing permission from the head keeper, entered the snake-house. The violinist began by playing a few most sympathetic chords, first delicate and soft, then sad, then gay, slow or tremulous. Near us, coiled in his immense cage, was a large cobra—the snake which all legend claims is most easily influenced by music. Almost immediately after the music began, the cobra raised himself in a listening attitude, steadily gazed at us as though he were viewing the future, spread his immense hood, and slowly began to shake his head from side to side, as if he were trying to keep time to the music. As soon as the music would change, his attitude changed accordingly. Only after the music had ceased did he resume his normal position.
The Indians agree that under the influence of various musical instruments, especially bagpipes, snake-charmers are able to get the snakes to come out from their homes among the old rocks and walls, and when they appear they seem perfectly dazed so that they can be easily captured.
It is not well to have any kind of musical instrument played, when in a forest at night where there are dangerous snakes, lest they come to hear it. Snake-hunters always carry with them some kind of musical instrument, depending upon the kind of snakes they wish to capture. It seems that all are not equally fascinated by it. I have experimented with little effect upon a large rattler; it may have been that he was deaf. But he gave little evidence of being interested.
We need not feel humiliated, then, for our animal kinspeople with their primitive music: we were monkeys, and before them we were reptiles, birds, fishes, even worms. But that was ages ago, and we have grown up and become better musicians. Evolution has chosen us as its favourites and given us every advantage in the struggle up the ladder of life. Our musical rivals of yesterday are as chorus people compared to Metropolitan Opera stars, with us. On this earth we reign supreme, we have conquered the earth, air, and water, annihilating time and distance. What more is there for us to learn of Nature's secrets? Only an understanding of our lower brothers, the animals.
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Dixon, Royal, 2006. The Human Side of Animals. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from

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