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David Rothenberg, \
David Rothenberg, "You Make My Heart Sing", with Michael Pestel in the National Aviary, Washington DC, 2002.

David Rothenberg, \   David Rothenberg, "You Make My Heart Sing", historical birdsong graphic.
David Rothenberg

You Make My Heart Sing

Last March I went to Pittsburgh to play music live with birds. The plan was to arrive at dawn, to catch the wary singers at their best, in the early morning chorus, when the most sound was happening. I meet my friend Michael Pestel at the gates of the National Aviary, a mostly forgotten federal institution in a rundown neighborhood. I had never heard of the aviary before Pestel told me what a great place it was to jam with the more-than-human world. He's been playing with the feathered residents of the place for years. Plus, the human staff was rumored to be friendly, and they liked to let musicians in during the early hours before the public, mostly guided schoolchildren, would storm the gates.

Pestel is there with his flute and various homemade stringed instruments. I have clarinets and saxophones, coaxed out of their cases. A bit tired, but ready to hear what these birds had up their sleeves. We head for the marsh room, a vaulted expanse with an observation deck and water birds from all over the world. I strain my ears to catch some pretty rocking bird beats, but they sounded familiar. Very familiar. Yes, it seems that the aviary is blaring Marvin Gaye at top volume to these birds at six o'clock in the morning. They are definitely squawkin' and squealin'.

"I cannot work in these conditions," mutters Pestel. "We've got to get these people to turn that racket down."
"Didn't you tell them we were coming?"
"No," he shakes his head. "You can't do that. Art always arrives without warning."

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You Make My Heart Sing

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