This article first appeared at Violinist.com in May 2008
It is Saturday, a warm, drowsy afternoon in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and my family and I are doing our respective family things. My husband is in the office, tapping away at the computer while my son putters about in the playroom, pausing from time to time to take his role-playing outside. I am upstairs practicing the violin, working on a Bach minuet, having recorded the second voice so I can duet with myself. Me and myself, we’re sounding okay, in an adult beginner’s sort of way. Nice, even. Apparently I am not the only one to think so.
When I hear the whistle from outside, via the back window, I assume it’s my son, using one of the whistles we make him take outside because it’s so loud. But the sound persists beyond his normal attention span. Curious, I pause my recording and peer around the partition that separates my practice corner from the rest of the room. Through the open screened window I see the source of the noise. It’s not a whistle. It’s a sparrow, what I will later come to learn is a Song Sparrow, russet and gray with bold streaks down its white chest. He is on the bedroom’s balcony railing. He is whistling and singing. Loudly.
Birds have perched on the balcony railing before; they have twittered and whistled before flying off. Here in the mountains, nature abounds. But it has never been like this. The sparrow is focused, intent, as he whistles straight at me. His eyes are unblinking, as if he has a message that he must get right, that there will be no second chances for him here.
He is serenading me, I realize. Well, my violin. Or surely it is the ineffable clarity and beauty of Bach. No matter. He continues to sing out in my direction in that clear, oh-so-loud whistle. I begin to play short phrases in response to him, not daring to break the spell by going back to the music on its stand in my practice corner. I fudge it. He doesn’t seem to mind. I play, he listens, head cocked, then sings back.
It is charming, miraculous. It reminds me of the scene in Shrek where Princess Fiona is singing so beautifully that a bluebird flies over and begins to duet with her. Granted, once Fiona hits a clinker note, the bird, unable to reproduce such a horrific sound, blows up, blue feathers wafting downward. The same fate does not befall my sparrow partner, for which I am grateful.
This goes on for over ten seconds, a wondrously long time when you’ve got a wild creature singing to you. Then the sparrow, spying the adjacent picture glass window, flies over to it and bumps into it. He wants to get in. He must get in. He must meet this beloved. He bumps his head against the glass a second time, a third time, before finally accepting the intransigence of the glass and flying away.
I stare at the space long after his departure, transfixed by what has just occurred. Then I run downstairs, crying for my family to come here, come here, there was a bird and he was singing to me. They follow me upstairs in a bemused fashion and I begin to feel a little foolish as I try to explain the impact of it, the magic. And then the sparrow comes back. “Look!” I cry and as if on command, he begins to whistle again as I play again. An encore performance, for a brief few seconds. Then, like the shy, modest performer he is, he flits away before we can applaud.
I tell my husband and son the rest, how the sparrow tried to get into the room, to which my husband responded in the pragmatic fashion that defines him, that the bird merely saw his own reflection and was trying to get closer to his exotic twin. The rationale makes sense to the logical mind. But I know in my heart that the song sparrow just had to get closer to the music. That magic sound, of violin and Bach.