Orchestra Day

Music has been a part of my life since I can remember; I began playing the piano at age six, the trumpet at age ten, and the euphonium at fourteen. I was fascinated by the effect music had on me: it calmed me and excited me at the same time; it was a means to express myself that I had never explored.

We wanted to bring some of the magic of music to the chimpanzees – the excitement of sitting in an orchestra pit right before the concert begins, the feeling of awe a child has when he or she sees a musical instrument for the first time, the elegance that surrounds a night at the symphony.

The first step toward creating our “Night at the Symphony” at CHCI was selecting elegant clothes that the chimps could nest with during this special day. My mother had purchased glittery top hats for Dar and Loulis, and we selected two beautiful gowns from the enrichment room for Washoe and Tatu. These were set out on the tire in the East room, with artificial roses around them to simulate those thrown on stage by patrons at the symphony beckoning an encore.

Instruments came next, designed especially for the chimpanzees to interact with! Hallie and I constructed a harp out of cardboard and yarn: the frame was cardboard and the yarn (complete with dried apples tied in) formed the strings! This was put on the wall for the chimpanzees to discover during their morning forage. My father sent some PVC pipe from his workshop and we filled them with beaded necklaces (and a few slices of fresh oranges) to create shakers. To finish off the decorations and preparation, black and white streamers were tied all around the East room and music notes cut out of cardboard were taped all over the walls, wooden platform, and shaky tree!

The chimpanzees seemed to enjoy this day of enrichment thoroughly! Dar and Loulis headed straight for the harp with the dried apples and picked out each one, while Washoe and Tatu set to opening the shakers with the oranges inside. A few boxes of colored water were set around as well for added enrichment and Tatu managed to gather all of them for herself!

Hallie and I had so much fun bringing a magical “Night at the Symphony” to Washoe’s family – judging by the way Washoe and Tatu manipulated those shakers, we just might have some musicians on our hands!

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3 Responses to Orchestra Day

  1. asr46 says:

    I enjoy your enrichment tales — maybe as much as the gang!
    Question about Orchestra Night…Do the chimps ever listen to music? If so, what are their favorites? Also, can they “play” instruments such as shakers or drums?

  2. Jason Wallin says:

    asr46 asked:”Do the chimps ever listen to music? If so, what are their favorites?”
    Most of us have a mistaken impression (usually from television and movies) of chimpanzees as loud and boisterous individuals. Now, don’t get me wrong, chimpanzees can get pretty loud when they are excited; but for the most part they are relatively silent individuals.
    Chimpanzees seem to find environmental noise to be a bit disruptive. The family at CHCI gets very excited and agitated when sirens or loud motorcycles pass by their home, for example. So music, as additional ambient noise, has the potential to be pretty disruptive, too. This may be because the vocalizations that chimpanzees make (and thus a lot of the noise in their natural environment) are tied primarily to the limbic system of the brain; this means that they are strongly related to emotions. Human speech sounds are corticalized, meaning that we have more conscious control over those sounds. But humans have plenty of emotional sounds, too. The sobs you make when crying, the guffaws you make when laughing uncontrollably, the noises you may shout when you hit your thumb with a hammer – these are all tied to the limbic system.
    That said, while music is not a regular occurrence at CHCI, we have done some investigations into the chimpanzees’ preferences (if any) for music. Remember that we are first and foremost a sanctuary for this family of chimpanzees, so all research is with their cooperation and permission, and is designed to be as minimally disruptive to their lives as possible.
    Fouts (1989) conducted a study to determine if the chimpanzees showed a preference between flute and clarinet music, as well as music in general. Two musicians, one with a flute the other with a clarinet, sat obscured behind a blind (to control for the novelty of interesting people with interesting new instruments). On each day for a week, one of the musicians played “Moon River” on the clarinet for one minute, followed by a minute of silence, after which the second musician played the same song (to control for possible preferences by the chimpanzees in musical styles) on the flute for one minute. Then the flute would play again for one minute, followed by a minute of silence, after which the clarinet would play for one final minute. (The order of the instruments was counterbalanced over each day to control for order effects.) Researchers recorded the time the chimpanzees spent in the room closest to the blind containing the musicians. Fouts concluded that no real preferences existed for flute over clarinet music. However, there were some interesting individual differences in preferences for listening to music, generally. Washoe and Loulis seemed to avoid the music, each spending less than 2 minutes over the week in the room closest to the music. Moja, Tatu, and Dar, on the other hand, seemed to prefer the music more. Each spent over 24 minutes in the closest room.
    Simpson (1993) and Shea (1993) offer anecdotal information about a very brief study of preferences for recorded music, when the chimpanzees were still living in the psychology building. There, the chimpanzees had five rooms to live in. The researchers simultaneously played a different type of music in four of the rooms – classical music in one, soft rock in a second, hard rock in a third, and nature sounds in a fourth ¬ and kept the fifth room silent. The researchers recorded the chimpanzees’ behavior 10 minutes prior to starting the music, for 20 minutes while the music was playing, and for 10 minutes after the music was turned off. For the 10 minutes prior to the start of the music, the chimpanzees had very low arousal, most were sleeping. Some interesting differences appeared, though, when the music was turned on. Moja and Tatu groomed one another in the soft rock room. Dar was a little excited and moved to the room with the nature sounds and remained there for most of the time. Washoe spent a lot of time in the room with the classical music. Loulis spent most of the time in the room with the hard rock music. Loulis became very excited, pant hooting, and banging on the bench. When the music was all turned off, Dar and Loulis began to relax, Moja and Tatu continued to groom, and Washoe’s excitement level seemed unchanged.
    For information on other researchers’ explorations into the music preferences of chimpanzees, you can look for the work of J. Fritz at the Primate Foundation of Arizona.
    Fouts, H. (1989) Chimpanzees and music. Friends of Washoe, 8 (4), 14-16.
    Shea, M. (1993) Music to the chimps’ ears. Friends of Washoe, 14 (3/4), 5-6.
    Simpson, M. (1993) Do chimps prefer rock music? Friends of Washoe, 14 (3/4), 5

  3. asr46 says:

    Thanks, Jason.
    Extremely interesting research.
    And seems to emphasize that chimps are individuals with individual tastes — and that Loulis tends to be a “typical” youngster in his hard rock musical choices! LOL

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