Nov 24 2019
"Have you heard?
The birds are back again
But I don't know when
They'll fly away"
(from Northern Lapwing)
Recently a list serve group based in Vancouver BC (vanbcbirds) had a very interesting thread where birders sent in examples of their favourite songs with birding titles and themes.
Steve Miller's Fly like a Bird, Leonard Cohens's Bird on a Wire and Incredible String Band's White Bird to name just a few. One favourite wasn't really a song but could easily be, Why can't they all be California Gulls, a play on the Beach Boy's California Girls.
The threads went on for weeks and was lots of fun. During my search for songs with birds as subject matter I came across a delightful and recently released album by New Jersey songstress Stephanie Seymour titled There Are Birds.
Stephanie is not only an accomplished musician backed by exceptional musicians she's also an avid birder. The liner notes have a picture of Stephanie with her 500th ABA bird, pictures of her birding in New Jersey and one of her birding on the way to a wedding, nice dress Stephanie!
|Cover artwork by Megan Massa|
One of my favourites is the evocative Veery. Having chased the elusive Veery this summer I could easily relate to lyrics. Another favourite track is a song about Emily an injured House Sparrow that Stephanie nursed back to life after the hapless sparrow hit a window. I was there all through the song as would anyone of us who have ever nursed an injured bird back to health.
There are twelve others songs about Blue Jays, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and other species. Stephanie has managed to garner a lifetime of birding memories into a memorable collection of songs that has been playing non-stop in our house.
You were weak, you were so weak
But food and water made you stronger
You had spunk, you had a lot of spunk
You watched my eyes as I sat by your side, singing
This is the story of a girl named Emily
A girl named Emily, a girl named Emily
Some people might not even think twice
About a girl that I named Emily
Two hours later, you were as good as new
We brought you to the open window
Where we thought you’d fly right through
Whoever said “bird brain” never knew you
You looked back at us to say “thank you”
And then you flew
(We’ll never forget you)
Q: Can you talk a bit about the making of “There Are Birds”?
A: We recorded and mixed in the Bald Eagle room at Chrometop Studio, which is in our basement! Bob has created a fantastic environment. We have some excellent echo effect happening in our stairwell, so at one point co-engineer Scott Anthony suggested putting a mic in there to pick up some of that effect for the hard-rocking “Violet-crowned Hummingbird.”
Sim Cain (drums) and Ray Nissen (bass) completed all the basic tracks in one insanely fun weekend. Then Bob and I overdubbed guitars and vocals at our leisure and would pass off semi-finished songs to Ray, who wrote and arranged the brass and orchestral parts. The horn players recorded here for a day, as did Charlie Giordano (E Street Band), who played two of the most beautiful accordions I’ve ever seen.
Q: How did you decide which birds to write about?
A: Many of the songs arose from actual events. For example, “Veery” is about going to my local nature center Flat Rock Brook when we lived in Englewood, NJ, and happening upon an unusually friendly Veery during migration. I sat down on the hill overlooking the horseshoe boardwalk, and the Veery kept hopping around me and listening to me talk to it. I went back the next day and there it was, and we did the same thing again. I visited the bird for a couple weeks until one day, it was gone.
“House Sparrow” was written about a bird that Bob rescued when he was mowing the lawn. She was nearly dead, but we took her inside and I put her in a box and gave her some water and food. I sat with her for a couple hours and sang to her, and I named her Emily. When she recovered, we tried to get her to fly out the window, but she got disoriented and started flying all over the room. Bob found a broomstick and got her to sit on it, and we took her over to a window and extended the broomstick far outside, so she wouldn’t mistakenly fly back in. Before she took off, she turned around and looked right at us, as if she were saying, “thanks for helping me,” and then she flew away and landed in a tree next to some other House Sparrows. I understand that House Sparrows are not native to this country, and I know they are considered pests (to put it nicely), but that bird needed help, and I wasn’t going to let her die if I could help it.
Other songs came about from the desire to write about specific birds, such as the Black-throated Blue Warbler, which is my favorite warbler. I was searching through my old lyric books on a whim and found what are now most of the verses for “Black-throated Blue Warbler,” although I rewrote some of them to fit the sentiment of the song. I wrote new lyrics for the choruses, and I thought it all fit together perfectly. My goal was to convey how migration evolved over a great expanse of time and how it is innate within the birds.
All lyrics ©Stephanie Seymour
"It's never too late to discover new music"