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About A Week: Skylark Symphonies

Peter Hinchliffe says that when the sap is rising and the catkins tremble on the twig, a skylark's thoughts naturally turn to... Well, to larking about.

When you walk across the Pennine hills where I live when the Spring sun shines and the skylarks are in full voice, you are within sight of heaven.

The larks always sound sublimely happy. Soaring, trilling, free as the wind.

Their aerial outbursts of dazzling song are all about sex of course. When the sap is rising and the catkins tremble on the twig, a skylark’s thoughts naturally turn to… Well, to larking about.

Their melodic flow is a sophisticated way of chatting up the opposite sex.

More sophisticated than we thought, according to a celebrated music teacher.

David Hindley, a former head of music at Huddersfield New College and a music teacher at a Cambridge College, suggested that a skylark’s song is on a par with the works of great composer.

Birdsong is so fast and its pitch so high that our ears cannot make proper sense of it.

The skylark delivers 230 notes per second.

Mr Hindley recorded skylarks with a high-tech recorder, then slowed down the tape.

Hey presto! Joy beyond joy!

The song of the birds was as subtle and complex as a Beethoven symphony.

“It is on equal terms with anything man has written.’’ said Mr Hindley.

The tunes of skylarks follow a classical sonata form - exposition, development, recapitulation.

“With invention, not repetition,’’ Mr Hindley stresses. “If it was an automaton, it would repeat the music precisely.’’

The ability to compose fine music instinctively seems like a recipe for perfect bliss.

How ironic if human beings, lords and masters of Planet Earth, are only experiencing second-best happiness.

That only birds experience perfect pleasure. Blackbirds, skylarks, starlings…

“Starlings?’’ you say. “They can’t sing!’’

No more they can, but I see hundreds of happy starlings, wining and dining free of charge on the grassy slopes near my home.

Their days are a round of feasting and partying. Come dusk, they head for the town centre, seeking the warmth of rooftops and window ledges. No heating bills. A free perch for the night.

Daily they commute against the flow of the human tide.

Come dawn, they are heading back to the hills and the countryside, while human “slaves’’ are rushing work-wards in their little metal prisons on wheels.

And while we’re on this theme, is there any wonder that dolphins always wear happy grins? They obviously know something we have yet to learn.

A dolphin’s brain is as big as that of a human. They don’t plough fields, plant corn, build tractors, work in offices, pay taxes…

All that brain power, and not much else to do other than to enjoy themselves.

I suppose the majority will be resistant to Mr Hindley’s suggestion, that a skylark can produce ten times more symphonies in a day than Beethoven did in a lifetime.

I, for one, am eager to believe.

How marvellous that modern recording equipment has given added weight to the words of an English poet.

“Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.’’

Seems as though Percy Shelley really did know a thing or two about nature.


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