I have a thing for children’s toys. I’ve mentioned that in a previous post. I seek out vintage noisemakers and whistles quite often. During one of my searches, I happened upon Adam Stager’s beautiful chirping bird whistle on his Etsy page. I ordered one immediately! When it arrived, I was struck dumb by a feeling of pure happiness. It’s a clever design, a beautiful piece of 3D printed art, and it sounds magical. I can’t wait to try it in my yard this spring to see if my birds agree.
Adam Stager is a mechanical engineering PhD student at the University of Delaware, and I believe, also has the heart of an artist. I seldom envy others; I celebrate them instead. I am not perfect, though, and when I meet an engineer with a whimsical vision like Adam Stager, or view the inventions of kinetic sculptors or anyone with mechanical skills, I feel a deep longing to be able to see the world through their lenses. I invite you to look at specific details about Adam’s work here.
When I received the original bird that I ordered from Adam, I had a flash about a piece I had to compose. I emailed Adam immediately with my idea. Would it be possible to make birds of different sizes, and would those sizes change the pitch of these chirpers? I was fairly sure of the latter. He was intrigued and said he would definitely work with me. Adam’s enthusiasm and commitment to the project has lifted my spirits, especially because of the precise nature of the project I have in mind for this piece with multiple chirping bird whistles.
Lee Hyla, my late mentor mentioned in two previous posts, was an avid birdwatcher. In fact, he wrote pieces for birds. One, Wilson’s Ivory-bill, showcases recorded calls from the Ivory-billed Woodpecker seen in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Another, Mythic Birds of Saugerties, employs one of Hyla's favorite instruments, the bass clarinet, and probably best showcased by Tim Smith on bass clarinet in his duo for bari sax and bass clarinet in We Speak Etruscan. Hyla made it a point to apply to artist colonies every summer based on their bird population. Birds perching on the ledge of his office window frequently distracted Hyla. He even talked to them! I loved that.
This week I received Adam’s prototype birds, two new sizes one smaller and one larger than the original. They are as exquisite as they are different from one another. They are making my piece one of the easiest to compose for one of the saddest of reasons. Thanks to Adam, there is a harbinger of whimsy in my life now that is helping to ease my grief over Lee Hyla’s passing. This piece is a farewell to Hyla, but not a permanent one. Lee wrote pieces to say farewell to the places that housed him while he composed. When in Rome, he wrote, Arrivederci Roma. When in Wyoming, one of his favorite places to watch birds, he wrote his piece, My Life on the Plains. As he left NYC, Ciao, Manhattan was composed. Lee appeared to have a casual cool manner, and applied that to many of his titles. His work and his life, however, were anything but casual. His work was chaotic but highly organized, violent, absurdist, humorous, and in between all that, it gave way to elegance, lyricism, peacefulness and solace.
Do I say goodbye to Lee Hyla? No. I will never say goodbye to Lee Hyla. I will remember him. Instead of goodbye, I will say “ciao”, or rather, the Polish equivalent of ciao for my Polish American friend: Cześć!
My piece, Cześć Hyła, begins with a single bird whistle call from Adam Stager's collection, moves on to another birdcall, and so on, until the many individuals slowly build into the kind of cacophony only a full flock of birds can accomplish. A Hitchcockian undertaking, if you will, and one of which I think Hyla would be proud. He loved surprises.
You can see a small demonstration video here and here of Adam chirping his original bird. I've decided to jealously protect the sounds of the other prototypes until the premiere of my piece in March. It's just too good a sound to ruin a premiere, but I promise to share a recording and film in the late spring. At least you can see a photo above which shows three sizes of these chirping bird whistles. They are such a lovely glimpse into the mind of a mechanical engineer. Adam Stager is a man I’m proud to call a new friend. His chirping whistles bring me so much joy and help me return to a childlike place before I knew what grief was.
Adam Stager, thank you. I am lucky to know you.