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Music Hath Charms for Other Species

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Leave it to a cellist to conceive the idea of playing music at high speed to gauge animals' emotional responses to it ["It's Music to These Monkeys' Ears -- and Also Their Hearts," news story, Sept. 7]. When I was studying vocal communication in bats for a PhD, I had to play back their calls at super-slow speed to decipher their ultrasonic utterances. Animals can have vastly different perceptual worlds, and it helps to consider their perspective before making conclusions about what they do or don't respond to.

Studies of other animals have shown that they, too, have strong musicality. Finches soon learned to distinguish Bach from Schoenberg, and could generalize from these to other baroque and modern composers. Carp knew the difference between Bach and blues (John Lee Hooker) and correctly categorized unfamiliar music to each genre. We all know that birds sing, but few know that fish communicate with sound. We should not dismiss the possibility that music can affect these and other creatures emotionally.

As science continues to make new discoveries about animal minds and feelings, I hope it strikes a chord for more considerate, ethical treatment of animals.

JONATHAN BALCOMBE

Germantown

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