A murmuration of starlings. 

Photo: Walter Baxter/CC BY-SA 2.0

Bird songs have served as a source of inspiration for composers since the Medieval era. Few musical tricks bring nature into the concert hall better than echoing a bird call.

Canadian composer Jordan Pal takes that basic idea in a new direction with his piece “Starling,” written for the Thunder Bay Symphony and the Gryphon Trio. Instead of copying the call of a single bird, he draws his inspiration from a whole flock of starlings. And he doesn’t stop at emulating their songs.

As millions of YouTube viewers know, the sight of a starling murmuration is mesmerizing. Thousands of birds swarm together in the sky. A single three-dimensional figure emerges, twisting and turning as the birds dive and climb in a spontaneous, collective motion.

A murmuration of starlings, captured by National Geographic. 

Pal deftly puts those same forces into play in his piece to create a rich, sonic illustration of murmuration. Individual lines flutter and dart within larger gestures that seem to dance and swoop.

Pal also plays with instrumentation to suggest a flock of birds in motion. The Gryphon Trio acts as soloists, with their individual piano, violin and cello parts melding into a coherent mass. At other times, the soloists combine with the full orchestra to create a dense, churning sound painting of murmuration. The music is as entrancing and beautiful as the nature it imitates.

Sample the music in this Spotify playlist: