Emily Doolittle – Bird and Animal Music


music for magpies; 7:00; for viola da gamba with quarter-tone frets or flute; for Karin Preslmayr.

This piece is based on the songs of two real birds (the pied butcherbird and the hoopoe lark) and three imaginary birds (the ringed river snike, the pileated pocket grouse, and the green-rumped antstalker). The performance below is by Karin Preslmayr. A score can be downloaded here.


Seven Duos for Birds or Strings; 14’00”; for violin and viola; commissioned by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Eric Stokes Fund, and the Culture and Animals Foundation; for Annette-Barbara Vogel and Dan Sweaney.

This piece is based on the songs and interaction patterns of birds which sing in duets or in larger groups, and is based on research I did while I was composer-in-residence at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany. The birds in this piece are the musician wren, the Canada goose, the Australian magpie, the brown-backed solitaire, the white-browed robin chat, the red-legged partridge, and the plain-tailed wren. An interdisciplinary paper on musician wren song that I co-authored with ornithologist Henrik Brumm while I was on the same residency can be found here.  And a score of this piece can be downloaded here.


Reeds; 36’00”; for reed trio and dancer; commissioned by the Umbrella Ensemble for performance at the Newfoundland Sound Symposium.

This is an outdoor, site-specific work based on the songs of the birds that can be heard at Oxen Pond in St. John’s, Newfoundland, throughout the course of a year. Though written for a specific location, this piece has also been successfully performed in a number of other locations, both indoors and out. Recording this piece is a challenge because it is so widely spatialized and the performers are moving, but below are a few short video clips. A score can be downloaded here.


Utah, 1996; 8’00”; for solo cello; for Tim Ingold.

This piece is based on transcriptions of the song of the hermit thrush, a bird which I have studied extensively, both musically and scientifically. (Emily Doolittle, Bruno Gingras, Dominik M. Endres, and W. Tecumseh Fitch. “Overtone-based pitch selection in hermit thrush song: Unexpected convergence with scale construction in human music.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 46 (2014): 16616-16621) A score can be downloaded here.


migrations; 8’00”; for poet, bass clarinet, violin, and cello; poetry by Eleonore Schönmaier; commissioned by the Musings Ensemble for Jamie McLaren.

This piece includes the sounds of migrant and resident birds that can be found along the southern Spanish coast. A score can be downloaded here.


all spring; 18:00; for soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, bass, and percussion; poetry by Rae Crossman; commissioned by the Canada Council for the Motion Ensemble.

This piece is based on five bird-related poems by Canadian poet Rae Crossman. The performance below is by the Motion Ensemble. A score can be downloaded here.


night black bird song; 8:00; for two flutes and three percussion; commissioned by SCI/ASCAP for the New York University New Music Ensemble. A score can be downloaded here.


falling still; 5:30; for oboe and three strings, or for string quartet, or for violin solo and string orchestra; commissioned by the Canada Council for the Arts for Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.

This piece was inspired by hearing a European Blackbird sing against a gentle background of early morning rain. There is no birdsong in this piece, however. Instead, I was interested in exploring the intersection of two different kinds of beauty, that created by a living being like a bird (represented by the flexible, ever-changing melody of the solo oboe or violin), and that which is simply the result of an inanimate process like the weather (represented by the continually repeating chord progression in the strings). A score can be downloaded here.



Social sounds from whales at night; 8:00; for solo voice or instrument and tape; commissioned by the Canada Council for Helen Pridmore. A score (of the oboe d’amore version) can be downloaded here. Please let me know if you want the score for any other voice or instrument.



Songs of Seals; 27’00”; for narrator, children’s choir, and 7 instrumentalists; texts by Rody Gorman and Emily Doolittle; for the Voice Factory Youth Choir and the Paragon Ensemble; written with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Artist Trust, ASCAP and Creative Scotland. A score can be downloaded here.


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