First published in the American Singers Club newsletter, January 2002.
About the author: Paula Hatcher is a professional flutist, a faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, and Vice President of MASCOT 28 in Baltimore.
On November 3rd, 2001, MASCOT 28 in Baltimore held its first formal AMERICAN MUSIC SINGER COMPETITION on the day of their double show. In addition to being a resounding success, the competition has begun to solve mysteries and answer questions which have been asked for a long time.
To review what the AMS competition is all about, American Singers who were exceptionally receptive to recorded music were chosen by their breeders to be prepared for this new competition. For this purpose, it was necessary to "tune" the birds to human scales (as opposed to the scales as they occur in nature, which the birds would otherwise use) by a variety of techniques, including teaching specific musical intervals. (More about these technical aspects will appear in a future issue.) These birds were then trained with a variety of music, including a contest repertoire tape. Three judges (two AS judges, Mike Seiler and Tad Rykojc, and one musician, myself), evaluated the birds in a group and then as soloists, as they sang to the competition tape. We used modified judging sheets. Our higher combined scores for either group or solo were used to determine prizes.
First prize was won handily by Marilyn Simons, whose yellow variegated star (American Singer with some Waterslager in him), competed with mellow intensity, professionalism, and excellent tuning. I asked Marilyn how she selected her prize pupil. She answered that she played music (including the contest tape) for all of her aviary babies as soon as they started to develop a song, and paid particular attention to a subset of free singers who sidle up to you and who want to sing for you. By late summer, she narrowed the choice down to four, and by September, two birds were musical stand-outs. At this time, Marilyn moved these birds to a different place and began the training regimen, which the birds loved.
I am almost certain that the "Tune Whistler", mentioned as a subtype in an old AS Constitution, was, in fact, a special kind of free singer, who still crops up in small numbers. Obviously, they are easier to spot in larger groups of birds because of the contrast, so they are probably more likely to show up in medium to large aviaries. But, however many or however few babies you have in a given year, be on the look-out for this extraordinary subtype. I am beginning to believe that these subtypes are worth their weight in gold. What would we get if musical free singers were bred with hens related to other musical free singers, and then the blood lines were concentrated even further?
Over the past three years, I have kept a log of birds that I have seen at shows who were immediately obvious, to me, as musical subtypes. These talented souls definitely are still waiting to be found, trained and bred.
Revisiting the AMS competition, second prize was won by Benny Goodman. His bird demonstrated that he had heard the music, and he sang with solid skills, but it was also immediately obvious that Benny's bird was not a free singer musical subtype. (My log shows that Benny did have a musical free singer the year before, from a different blood line.)
* I wish to extend my thanks to all the participants, who put in a lot of hard work to find talent for this competition. The AMS competition will definitely be held again in 2002.
Mike Seiler best summed things up after he heard Marilyn's bird sing: "Hearing is believing!" Someone in the audience added, "I bet there are even better ones out there. . . "
A note from the editor: In next summer's issue, Paula Hatcher will share with you how to find musical talent in your aviary, and how to train these special birds to recorded music.
Copyright © 2002 Paula Hatcher. All rights reserved.
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