If music be the food of love, play on. Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
I recently saw on my twitter feed a trailer from the nonprofit group Music Mends Minds. They form bands with people with neurodegenerative diseases who love to make music, but are losing or have lost their speech.
After wiping the tears from my eyes, of course I thought of Pettigrew. In how many languages does he converse?
He’s great at physical communication, dancing around my legs, nudging my body with his head, or following me from room to room when he has an immediate need, say his food or water bowl is empty, or it’s past time for a walk.
He uses his eyes and eyebrows with killer precision. See How I know George Lucas Had a Dog for the canine application of the Force.
And Pettigrew, like other individuals who can’t speak, connects with others through music.
He has always enjoyed singing scat when my older son plays jazz or the blues on the piano. To listen to a recording, see He’s Got a Song in his Heart. At 1 minute 5 seconds you will hear Pettigrew’s distinctive, vocal contribution. Or, you can start at the beginning and enjoy listening to my son improvise on the piano. [Please indulge my proud mother moment.]
But it was confusing that Pettigrew only rarely joined in when my younger son’s clarinet sounded its distinctive notes.
Did he “speak” piano better than clarinet? The other day my son practiced his clarinet longer than usual, and that extra few minutes seemed to be what Pettigrew needed to catch the conversational thread. All of a sudden, he was raising his voice in song.
Pondering this, I’ve come to think of the instruments as different languages. And Pettigrew, consummate communicator that he is, has taught himself their idiosyncrasies.
Why is it that he only sings to live music? Perhaps because with a recording he doesn’t feel that frisson of connection with the artist, the byplay that makes live performances so exciting. Or maybe, the complexity of multiple instruments eludes even his capacity to find a place in the conversation.
And what about communicating with other dogs? Is body language universal—the sniffs, circles, tail position, and overall tautness or relaxation in the body? Or is a breakdown in communication why a seemingly benign, even friendly encounter, can quickly turn aggressive?
I wonder about different breeds and different regions of the country and world. After all, human languages differ by region and country, why shouldn’t dogs’s?
Once I began to think about it, I realized Pettigrew is an accomplished multi-linguist. Even Star Wars’ multi-linguist droid C-3PO may have met his match.