The autumn aviary migration is underway; Juncos and Starlings flit their way through our woods on their way to warmer climates. Yesterday, I was driving through the brown leaves that skittered down a two lane highway when a mass overflowing with birds exited a tree--flying low enough toward me that I gasped. Before I could twitch a muscle on the gas pedal, in one single shadow of wings and bodies, the flock arched themselves up, aiming toward the sky.
I am not a bird watcher. I am clueless as to the telepathy, aerodynamics and physics that induce countless birds to change direction at once, without crashing amid a flurry of drifting fluff. As they veered away though, I found myself positioned on a platform in our high school auditorium, hypnotized as Mr. Sullivan, the choral director, swooped his baton in an attempt to pull flawless harmony from our group of Glee Club singers.
A good choir leader performs with a fervor that mesmerizes his flock, encouraging and manipulating the purest sound through the direction of his stick. The birds reminded me of this--standing in front of a composer while he taps the stand in front of him, raising his arms before slashing them down, the signal to commence the piece in four-four time. Balancing on tiptoes, he stabs toward the sopranos, lifting his pointer to elevate their voices, prodding it at the tenors so they’ll open their mouths and build with unified sound. Holding out his palms, he shapes the song, coaxing the altos, quieting the basses, bequeathing a complexity to the melody by lifting it high, then chopping with his hand so all mouths close in synchronized suspension.
The orchestration of the birds, their seamless chemistry, makes me wonder if somewhere there’s a bird maestro. White haired and corpulent like Mr. Sullivan, maybe he teeters on the balls of his feet, beating time and pointing with his wand, guiding the enthralled flock over my car, under a bridge, around a tree, leading them to a telephone wire with the same finite precision a choral director utilizes to ensure voices blend--songs and wings soaring--then coming to rest--with plumage soft as silk on the weighted cable far below.
For just a second yesterday, as the birds climbed the wind above me, I was startled enough to think, “This must be what it is like to see music.”