Birds and music: A sound combination this Saturday at Krannert


By Mariah Schaefer

Very rarely are bird chirps heard indoors — maybe when a bird is accidentally trapped inside a supermarket, or maybe when one is nearby a window. Music, however, has provided a solution for those who appreciate birdsong and wish to hear it in places other than out in nature. Now, the sounds of birds can be imitated through various instruments.

Sinfonia da Camera will explore this concept with its “Classical Tweets” concert on Saturday, March 12 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The chamber orchestra affiliated with Krannert and FAA will play three pieces pertaining to the bird theme: Olivier Messiaen’s “Oiseaux exotiques,” Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds and Maurice Ravel’s “Ma mère l’Oye.”

Ian Hobson, music director of Sinfonia da Camera, founded the chamber orchestra in 1984. Hobson will conduct “Classical Tweets,” which will feature 50 musicians. Sinfonia da Camera is composed of faculty and students as well as musicians from the surrounding community.

“We get to do whichever concerts that we sort of feel like,” said Adam Kosberg, operations and personnel manager at Sinfonia da Camera. “They tend to be on the chamber music side of things, so it’s a little bit different than, maybe, the concerts that the C-U Symphony would play. The repertoire just tends to focus more on smaller things, a lot more emphasis on soloists.”

For “Classical Tweets,” William Moersch, percussion professor at the School of Music and principal timpanist in Sinfonia da Camera, said he was one of the musicians who pitched Messiaen’s “Oiseaux exotiques” for the chamber orchestra to play, and the other two pieces were added later to fit the bird theme.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
Thank you for subscribing!

Kosberg said despite its title, the concert “doesn’t have anything to do with Twitter.”

“Oiseaux exotiques” was composed in the mid-1950s to resemble the sounds of exotic birds from around the world. Moersch said the bird songs assembled in the piece could never be heard together in nature.

Moersch, who will play the xylophone during the piece, said Messiaen’s reconstruction of birdsong through instruments is very precise.

“He has done an absolutely incredible job of transcribing accurately the various bird songs, and then he has used the skill of orchestration to transfer those into the instruments,” Moersch said. “The most striking thing when you listen to one of these actual birds is that the rhythm is absolutely right on; he just nails the time, which I wasn’t quite expecting at first hearing that the pulse is absolutely correct.”

Ronald Romm, trumpet professor at the School of Music and principal trumpeter in Sinfonia da Camera, said recreating bird songs is not easy.

“To make the birds sound authentically like bird sounds is very challenging because we have to put notes together in a certain pattern and have that pattern not sound like it’s bricks being thrown at one another — it has to sound like birds singing to one another,” Romm said.

Messiaen’s “Oiseaux exotiques,” however, is the only piece Sinfonia da Camera will play that is meant to sound like birdsong. Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds has no particular extramusical element, and Ravel’s “Ma mère l’Oye” is based on five children’s fairy tales, Moersch said.

All three pieces were composed during the 20th century.

“I think it’s unique to know that classical music is very engaged in nature and in all aspects of life,” Romm said. “The more we go through various periods of history, the more we realize that we have classical music as always taking great interest in nature and in life.”

[email protected]