Hyla versicolor vs Detroit Symphony Orchestra!

A few summers ago, one of the DSO evening concerts Hanna and I attended at Meadow Brook lingers in my memory because of an unusual event. My memory of this concert is selective. I recall that Thomas Wilkins conducted, and that the weather was problematic. We had purchased lawn tickets. The rainstorm held off during most of the first half of the concert, which as I recall featured a piano soloist (who, or what he played, I can’t remember). Then the thunder and lightning and rain came, and many of us scurried as quickly as we could from the lawn to seats inside the pavilion–there were plenty of unoccupied seats there–where, with a roof over our heads, we stayed relatively dry. By the time intermission ended, the worst of the storm had passed. Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony, which deserves more performances than it usually gets, was scheduled for the second half. Shortly after the first movement began, the very loud trill of a tree frog (the frog is quite small, but it has a very loud voice), up in the rafters of the pavilion, began accompanying the music of Dvorak coming from the orchestra! After the first movement ended, Maestro Wilkins turned to the audience and remarked: “And he didn’t even buy a ticket!” Laughter and applause. The frog eventually lost interest, apparently, and maybe moved on, but the delightful music of Dvorak continued. I like to think that Dvorak himself, had he been present, would have enjoyed the spectacle of having his 8th Symphony accompanied by a frog!

That’s not quite all of the story. A generally favorable review of the concert, by Mark Stryker, appeared in the Detroit Free Press a couple of days later. But what I (as a biologist) knew to be a gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor*, I think; there is a closely related species that it can be confused with) was, to Mr. Stryker’s ears, “a pigeon.” His great knowledge and love of classical music was not accompanied by an equal knowledge of the music of the natural world. I was sufficiently exercised by the error that I wrote a letter to the Free Press to point it out. Sadly, they never printed my letter. Most of those who heard the concert probably believe, to this day–if they read the review and didn’t know better–that the creature who joined in with the music of Dvorak that night at Meadow Brook was a pigeon. Now all of you who read this will know the TRUTH!


* Try Google to learn more about the gray tree frog, Hyla versicolor.

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