“The function of music is to liberate in the soul those feelings which normally we keep locked up in the heart.”
― Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War
Interpretation and music are soul brothers. They aspire to inspire.
May is a month-long celebration of New Zealand Music, and (apparently) the 5th of May was International Dawn Chorus Day. It seems fitting therefore to share some interpretation that uses songs; in this case, those of nature – bird song.
When Captain Cook and naturalist John Banks first arrived on our island’s shores, they described the birdsong here as deafening.
‘Their voices were certainly the [most] melodious wild musick I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells but with the most tuneable silver sound imaginable.’
On our mainland islands, this chorus has been silenced, or at least, the volume turned right down. Restoration projects working towards restoring the dawn chorus have been supported by bird-call interpretation.
1 – Bird call audio panel for Tōtara Track – Pureora Forest Park
Designed and made by Sonia Frimmel, What’s the Story Limited, the push-button panel has proved popular with people and birds alike. According to DOC’s Martin Akroyd who commissioned the panel, when it was first tested, a curious kākā flew straight down to check it out.
“It confirmed to us we made the right decision when we chose to leave kārearea / falcon calls off the panel,” says Martin. (kārearea are known internationally as one of the bravest, most aggressive of falcon species).
2 – Scan the QR code to hear this bird’s call – Manawatu Gorge
Andrew Mercer used in-house DOC designer Sandra Parkkali and social media advisor Kurt Sharpe to create his QR code-supported birdcall display for in the Manawatu Gorge. Smartphone users can scan each code to go to a Youtube-hosted clip of the bird call, and Andrew says that local tūī are responding to the calls!
Perform a duet or get a group of friends together to play a different call on each phone to replicate your own dawn chorus.
3 – Bird call walls – Arthur’s Pass National Park Visitor Centre and Nelson Lakes National Park Visitor Centre
A proto-type display panel created by University of Otago design students, and in Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre, attempts this replication as well. Push on each bird shape on the bird wall to hear their call. Push multiple birds to hear all their calls layered over each other in a cacophony of sound. In Nelson, put on the headset to hear a recorded message naming each bird before it’s call.
4 – Sound maps – Tiritiri Matangi Kiwi Ranger
But of course, none of these are as good as the real thing. Offshore island sanctuaries like Tiritiri Matangi offer the best chance to hear Nature’s chorus in its glory. Tiritiri is about to become the first North Island site where you can earn a Kiwi Ranger badge, with a big launch planned for Queen’s Birthday weekend 1-3 June. A booklet of activities is designed to encourage a deeper experience during your visit to the island. Get up close and personal at the bird baths, or stretch your ears using the sound map activity to really focus in on the symphony of bird sounds. Complete the activities and you earn a gorgeous badge featuring tieke/saddleback; whose call in Māori culture was an omen, good or bad depending on which direction it was heard from. Find out more about visiting Tiritiri over Queen’s Birthday at doc.govt.nz/kiwiranger
There are lots of other ways music has been incorporated into interpretation to tell a particular story. Which is your favourite?
I’d like to leave you with one of my personal favourite songs featuring Aotearoa birdlife: Moana and the Moa-Hunters singing Tihore Mai