'The Music of Wild Birds'

Book Celebrates Work of 20th-Century Naturalist, Composer

Cover of F. Schuyler Mathews' Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music

Cover of F. Schuyler Mathews turn of the 20th-century work, Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music. hide caption

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The return of bird songs is one of the first clues that winter is officially over. As naturalist F. Schuyler Mathews wrote nearly a century ago, "It is not possible to listen to the melody of the song sparrow... without realizing that we are released from the cold clutch of winter and set down in the comfortable lap of spring."

Mathews was a bird lover, composer and an artist. He would venture out into the fields and woods around his home in Campton, N.H., and write down the songs the birds were singing. Then, he translated bird song into musical notes.

Listen to Mathew's Work

Composer Douglas Quin set Mathews' bird song transcriptions to clarinet and wove them into this musical piece, along with natural sound. Listen to a piece from from Quin's CD Oropendola:

Listen 'Yasashii Kaze'

Sara Stern Plays Three of Mathews' Musical Notations:

Listen Whip-Poor-Will

Listen Bobwhite Quail

Listen American Robin

The first major effort of its kind, his Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music was first published in 1904. Through watercolor illustrations, transcriptions of bird songs and lush descriptions of the birds themselves, the book documented 82 species. Judy Pelikan has re-illustrated and condensed Mathews' work in a new book, called The Music of Wild Birds. NPR's Melissa Block, host of All Things Considered, talks with Pelikan and others who have been inspired by Mathews' work.

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