Why Music for Animals?

The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular published a short article titled “Music for Animals” in 1897. The article discussed various animals’ tastes in music–from dogs and elephants to lions and rats. There was a zoo elephant in Paris who had her own concert, a nobleman who hired an orchestra to play for his horses and lots of dogs who howled along with the piano.

Playing music for other animals isn’t anything new. As long as humans and other animals have lived together we’ve interacted with each other using music. There are the flutes of snake charmers, the melodies of milk maids, the songs of shepherds. And yet today, in the United States anyway, ‘music for animals’ tends to means a CD you put on the stereo when you’ve left the house so that your dog or cat or parrot feels calm. They are mostly Mozart or Bach.

I never really bought the idea that nonhumans only like classical music though. Individual animals have tastes, just like we do. There is likely no “music for dogs” just as there is no “music for humans.” There are things we can hear and certain decibel levels that hurt our ears–but beyond that, species level music doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

I also got curious about what it would be like to play shows for animals who are normally shows themselves. What might we learn about them as individuals? What might we learn about us?

Nothing exposes the limits of the human imagination more than imagining what it is like to be someone else. Particularly if that someone else is nonhuman.

With this in mind, I have been putting together a series of concerts for other animals.

Laurel Braitman, December 2014