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  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   December 2008

Bowser and Bach

Do animals have a musical preference?

By Gaye Rock



We intend it as a great compliment when we say that someone is a good listener. We mean that not only does he listen passively to our story, but also that he takes an active role in our tale, drawing us out and making us want to continue. That we make this distinction means that not everyone has mastered the art of good listening!

The same goes for music. It is not enough to simply batter your ears with sound, or to perform a task with "background music" on; one must actively listen in order to truly hear the musical tones and arrangement of notes. Unfortunately, our society does not necessarily encourage this type of musical listening. More often, bashing, crashing cymbals are the order of the day. Or one is bombarded in other ways, such as elevator-Muzak versions of "Light My Fire" in the grocery store!

No, listening is an art, and one that animals, both domestic and wild, have perfected. Wild animals don't listen to CDs, but they do listen to the symphonic tones — the music — of nature that goes on all the time. If a symphony consists of "harmonic arrangement" (as Webster's defines it), then you can appreciate the exquisite arrangement of blowing wind in the trees, cicadas tuning up, and birds chirping in different melodies. Look at the ears of any wild animal, and you will know that they hear all of this as their "life soundtrack."

Domestic dogs and cats have been dismissed as not have a discerning musical ear, but I must strongly disagree. Every animal I have had the privilege to know has displayed a musical preference. Now, I admit, being a musician myself, I listen to and play a great deal of music, and so my pets have been subjected to quite a variety of musical thought. My CD collection consists of everything from Metallica to Pavarotti. Do my animals have a discerning ear because of my passion for music? I think not. I think they just listen and form a preference, as humans do.



Wags, my first dog, loved the "Peter and the Wolf" theme (Prokofiev). She came running like a bat out of hell whenever we plucked out this tune on the piano. There she would sit, a polite audience, until the theme was complete. Afterwards, she would happily leave to do other dog things. I must confess, my brother and I frequently tortured her by letting her trot off, only to return again and again as we played the theme. She was also a big fan of Bach. (You can't say she didn't have classical taste.) If I played Bach on the piano, she wanted to lie underneath the sounding board and absorb it. Bach's well-ordered brain and counterpoint must have had a soothing effect on the "beast" part of her brain. And it didn't really matter when I hit "bummers"; she steadfastly sat under the long end of the grand piano (which could get really LOUD when wrong notes were hit, followed by a fist to the keys!).

Scruffy, who followed Wags, loved rock and roll. I mean really loved it. The louder and more raucous, the happier she was! (Motley Crue was a favorite.) I played in several bands for over 20 years, and during my heavy-metal phase, she always positioned herself next to the drummer, between the bass drum and crash cymbal. Loved it! Then when I was learning to play the drums, she dug it so much that she would lie in front of the drum kit, a rapt audience.

I have to say, I think dogs are less musically critical than humans. I have dropped a few snare beats in my day, and it didn't seem to matter to Scruffy. I never saw her flinch (thank you!) or perk her ears up when a beat was being dropped. If I rushed a roll, no problem, she stayed steadfastly in (or under) the kit.

Cats, by contrast, have a very different approach to music they like. Our cat Samantha likes Irish folk music and classical selections by Haydn and Purcell. While she doesn't need to be near the speakers, she will get into her favorite chair and purr like mad when they are played. Rolled onto her back, arms akimbo, eyes squeezed tightly shut, she listens for hours. Unfortunately, she doesn't care much for my singing voice, and will run like hell away from my vocalizing. Unless it's a lullaby, in which case she tolerates it, but only just. Everybody's a critic.

Rudy, who followed Scruffy in dog chronology, had a favorite artist, rather than a favorite song or type of music. He liked the flute player, James Galway. Specifically, he loved James Galway's "Songs from Japan" (highly recommended — you can't say I don't have diverse musical taste). He, too, came to band practice. He sat on my left foot, in front of the 300-watt keyboard amp. That particular band I was in played hits from the 1960s through the 1990s. Rudy dug those tunes, a big cheesy grin on his face the whole time. Every once in a while, he got his tail going in sync with the backbeat, much to my band's amusement. He was a welcome guest.

Now Kristy, one of our new dogs, likes Irish music, especially Christy Moore. I can't tell if she likes this artist because he reminds her of my husband's voice, or if she actually likes Christy Moore himself. She also likes any live music, no matter how poorly played. Not the critical sort, she happily stretches out next to the music and hangs out with us.

In my grooming shop, we had a customer named Betsy, who was a bichon frise. It was impossible to groom Betsy — a snarling, snapping 10-pound whirling dervish — unless you played Leann Rimes' yodeling song over and over. It was fortunate that the CD player in the shop had a "repeat" feature, for you had to play that cowboy song over and over, lest Betsy return to her snarling pit-bull-trapped-in-a-bichon-body self. With the music on, however, she stayed relatively calm and would allow herself to be groomed.

Then there was the calming effect of Josh Groban's voice. (But I challenge you to find anyone who isn't calmed by his voice.) Within half a song of putting his CD on, all the barking animals in the grooming shop were sitting, quietly attentive. Same goes for Andrea Bocelli. I believe that Groban and Bocelli calm animals because of the element of truth to their voices.



Let me explain. Animals respond to truth with more discernment than people do. Maybe that's a result of people hiding the truth from one another in everyday life. We just can't recognize truth 100 percent of the time because we've been lied to so often! Animals respond to energy. If your actions and energy don't match, they immediately mark you as a phony. If you mean what you play and mean what you sing, there will be a response. Either they like it, or they don't. Animals respond to truth in music, as they do with energy. And what is music but an extension of the player's energy?

Take a couple of hours and find out what music your pet prefers. Watch the body language. Really think about it, and you may realize that all along, your cat has had a theme song! Or you may discover you have a head-banger hound who loves heavy metal when riding in your car. Like humans, different situations call for different types of music. That same dog, when relaxing at home, may prefer John Denver or Sarah McLaughlin! Kristy has a theme song that isn't even of her era — it's Tom Jones' "She's a Lady." Digs it.

Observe your pet's body language. Is he or she telling you, "Hey, turn that noise off!" or is your pet sitting quietly with eyes in half-closed, true listening mode? Experiment! If you don't have the necessary CDs, try different radio stations. Once you find that special genre Bowser likes, you will have an instant weapon against thunderstorms and temper tantrums!



Gaye Rock operates the Rock Center in Silver City, offering animal communication as well as Reiki treatment for people and animals. Contact her at 956-5200 or porto6281@aznex.net



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