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The Power of Music

“A day at the Hawk Conservancy Trust is always inspiring. Spending time wandering the beautiful grounds here is relaxing, especially when the trees are in full leaf and the sun shines through their branches. Time spent exploring the birds that live here as they rest is a joy – many will sit for hours just preening their feathers in the sunshine and others, if you time it right, may reward you with a glimpse of their precious chick in the nest. But ask anyone what the highlight of a day with us is and they’ll say the flying displays. The opportunity to be inches from an owl’s wing as they glide silently across the woodland or far beneath a Peregrine Falcon as he tucks his wings and stoops at speed towards a reward over Reg’s Wildflower Meadow is surely unforgettable in anyone’s book. Our aim in these displays is to educate, of course; we want visitors to go away knowing more about the species we are privileged enough to share the planet with. But imparting knowledge about the birds will only go so far in supporting our mission to conserve birds of prey.

To get people to truly care, what we need to do is establish a connection. A connection between those visiting us and our birds, forged in emotions felt and the shared experience of being around them. All of this can be a powerful starting point for behaviour change. These are the types of changes that can make a positive difference to the world around us.

We work hard to develop the flying displays into memorable experiences rather than simply illustrated lectures. Theming can help with this and we’ve employed the use of this in our Wings of Africa display specifically with the aim of transporting everyone, if only in the mind, to Africa, where the wonders of the African bird life are right there with you and the threats that face them seem that little bit more pressing. During the finale to the display, the commentator will, having told everyone about the issues vultures in particular face in the wild, build up to a natural event – a bush fire. At this moment, smoke begins to bellow from the grasses, birds start to appear and music plays.

Music has been known as the universal language – it stirs up feelings, uncovers memories and evokes an emotional response. It’s something of a mystery quite how music does this, but we’ve learned that using it at the right moment during our displays helps us to grab the attention of everyone who’s there and encourages them to ‘feel’ something about what they’re seeing. It’s also a chance for quiet reflection. As a member of the Bird Team I know how hard it is to stop oneself from getting over excited and sharing lots of information about a species in a very short amount of time. Passion can run away with you sometimes and it can be a lot to take in. Young or old, from whatever background, English speaking or not, the moments of music in displays bring everyone together to share in watching and enjoying the moment.

Discovering and bringing out the link between the birds’ differing flight patterns and different styles of music is a particular joy of mine. I want to tell the birds’ stories that might otherwise go unnoticed. I have something of a theatrical background so the art of creating moments of wonder within our displays is what I crave to achieve. When I hear a piece of music I try to sit and picture which bird it might best fit, classical and soundtrack music is particularly good for this because it’s already deliberately emotive and tells a story all of its own. During the finale to the Woodland Owls display (spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it!) our three Barn Owls, Charlie, Delta and Elder appear from various natural spots in and around the chapel tucked away at the bottom of the woods – another great example of this theming enhancing the experience. This used to be accompanied by a soundtrack of ringing church bells and choral singing. Fine – very nice and fits perfectly to the theme but somehow it didn’t quite ‘do the job’. It’s such a beautiful part of the day and the moment wasn’t being made enough of. So we changed it. The piece of music we use now is called ‘Starlings’ and was featured on Planet Earth II (listen from the playlist below). To me it just sounded like the gentle fluttering wings of a Barn Owl as it exits the chapel and almost dances around the woodland.

One of my favourite parts of my job at the Trust is to develop new aspects to our displays, more often than not for our fundraising events. There’s something special about thinking around the different ways we can demonstrate the birds’ natural abilities to show the very best of them. I find it fosters a high level of appreciation and respect for the species we work with because of that emotional connection. The methodology of this for me is now to work backwards from the way we hope people will feel when they see the display and the rest starts to fall into place. And we know we’ve got this right when there are a few tears amongst the audience and from the wonderful feedback we receive:

‘I just wanted to say a big thank you to you all for giving me the most wonderful day yesterday. It was my first visit and well what can I say but WOW! A truly an emotional visit. The Barn Owls made me cry as it was just so very special. Seeing all the birds fly yesterday was incredible and I was really taken back by the piece of music that was playing. I’ll definitely be back again.’ – Pauline Lympany

To achieve our mission we need more than just people with all the answers and all the facts – it’s important that people feel something and also care. A feeling of joy when told that our Raptor Nest Box Project helps to support the beautiful Barn Owls you’ve just seen floating overhead. Or perhaps a feeling of regret for the plight of our beloved vultures. Start with a feeling, add a sprinkle of research and information and finally a few bars of the right music and you’ve got the recipe for an unforgettable experience.”

Tom Morath

Fundraising Events Manager and Bird Team

If you love the music we use in our displays as much as we do, here are some of the tracks we use so that you can take a moment at home to be transported back to the memories of seeing our beautiful birds take effortlessly to the skies. To listen in full, you will need a Spotify account All the songs can also be found on YouTube.

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