Ep. 74: Why do birds (and insects and whales) sing? With David Rothenberg, PhD

Singing bird

Photo by Nick Sokolov on Unsplash


Musicality is all around us in nature! An understanding of the musicality of animals brings vibrance to the world around us in unexpected ways. Dr. David Rothenberg is a musician and naturalist, and has played his clarinet along with birds, whales, and singing insects.

David Rothenberg, PhD


Joining me today is Dr. David Rothenberg, a professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is also a composer, jazz musician, author and naturalist whose work reflects his special interest in the musicality of animals.


  • Dr. Rothenberg has played his clarinet along with birds, whales, and singing insects. He’s made numerous recordings, books, and films about the process. And these works have been the subject of documentaries made around the world. He explains when he first started to think about animal sounds as music.
  • Dr. Rothenberg has collaborated with neuroscientists on understanding animal sounds. He explains how the research is done; the research findings; and his latest project.

 Connect/Other Resources

  • Mockingbird Song Decoded


David shares the song, Sharawaji Blues (from his album, Nightingales in Berlin), and the story of how it came to be.

Closing Words

And that is a bit of Sharawaji Blues, from David’s album Nightingales in Berlin. He does have a documentary by the same name. Thanks so much to Dr. Rothenberg for sharing with us today!

This topic makes me think of the Psalms that talk about all the earth and everything in it shouting for joy to the Lord, and bursting into jubilant song with music (Psalm 98 is one that talks about this). And I also think about the carol we hear so much this time of year, Joy to the World, and the refrain “And heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n and nature sing.” It’s really cool to learn more about the singing of nature!

And this week IS the week of Christmas! So to all of you who celebrate Christmas, let me wish you a very merry and blessed Christmas! I recognize that the holidays can be a very sad and challenging time for a lot of people. If the holidays are a difficult time for you or a loved one, you are not alone, and music has unique abilities to heal and comfort. You may find hope and encouragement in listening to Ep. 20, Music Heals the Soul

Thank you for joining me today! However you end up celebrating the holidays in this strange year of 2020, may those celebrations be enhanced with music!



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