We were rehearsing this week in the home of a friend who keeps a pet canary in a cage in the kitchen. The canary was silent as we arrived and sat round the table, chatting and drinking coffee. But as soon as we went next door, picked up our instruments and started to play, the canary greeted our first notes with a fusillade of energetic chirping and high-pitched coloratura. At first we thought he was competing with the high-pitched violin, but later, when I was practising the piano on my own, he behaved in exactly the same way. He responded to my opening chords with an outburst of excited comment. When I fell silent, he fell silent.
I would love to know whether, as I first thought, the canary was thrilled by the sound of live music in his home, or whether in fact he was alarmed by what he perceived as rival chirruping. Perhaps his vigorous calling and singing was actually a display of territorial power, a warning to us to get off his patch. What sounded like lovely music to us may have seemed to him like a coup d’état.