Kathleen Chen ’17 is a first-semester student studying jazz violin performance and music production. She works for the Movement at Berklee, a student-run program that reaches out to the community through performance outreach, youth mentorship, and musical instruction.
Over the weekend, I played a gig in which the audience was the main attraction at the venue. The audience also did not clap after performances, or completely understand what I was doing with my instrument—because they consisted of tigers, kangaroos, and lemurs.
When I first told my boyfriend that I was playing for animals at the Franklin Zoo, he laughed. While it may initially seem like a silly idea, studies have shown that animals do respond to music, and from my unscientific observations, they adore Bach.
This event was a collaboration between Berklee’s the Movement and the Franklin Park Zoo’s animal enrichment program, where animals are introduced to stimuli that may mimic their natural habitats and lead them to use their creative energy and problem-solving skills. After all, most of the resources the animals have to scavenge for in the wild are already provided, and zoo life becomes quite predictable after a while. As a part of a group of volunteer musicians, our assignment was to spice up animals’ lives with some grooves.
My first mission was to swoon the big cats. The tiger, in his brazen orange aloofness, stared at me from his platform in the middle of the habitat. I played several movements of a Bach partita, and seemed to hold his gaze. He sauntered around the exhibit, but never quite approached my violin and me.
Kangaroos took more notice of me. At this point, I started walking around the enclosure and improvising. I played trills and tremolos in low and high registers, plucking the strings, and touching on all the spectrum of sounds possible on the violin. I piqued the interest of one baby kangaroo for quite a while—as soon as I played, his ears perked and he looked around, searching for the source of the strange sounds. Finally, he spotted me, but seemed shy and remained at a distance, observing me closely as I mustered up a cacophony.
The lemurs were busy silently bantering among themselves, but all their heads turned up at me when I started playing a light minuet. What a strange beast they must have thought I was! A couple lemurs hopped over to the side of the glass, presumably trying to reach the source of the sound through the glass. A few of the others started play-fighting among themselves, possibly as a result of the auditory stimulation. Since they could not interact with the source of the sound (me), they interacted with each other! That was admittedly, extremely adorable to watch.
I met up with the other musicians afterwards and we all shared our stories. It seemed like everyone had their share of success with the animals, and that the enrichment mission was accomplished. The gorillas adored Jamichael and Nate (Class of 2019) on flute and guitar, and one even punched the glass and walked away when the duo wrapped up their set. Well, that’s one way to ask for an encore!
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