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Welcome to rehearsal time at the Collected Wisdom Symphony Orchestra. This week we're working on a contemporary Canadian classic – Anne Murray's Snowbird. Well, it scares the mice away.

THE QUESTION

Paul Therrien of Gatineau, Que., would like to know if any composers have based pieces of their music on bird songs.

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THE ANSWER

French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was definitely for the birds, writes Farley Helfant of Toronto. "Our feathered friends inspired many of his compositions. Catalogue d'oiseaux is but one example. As the title implies, Messiaen treated bird songs with the seriousness of an ornithologist."

Mr. Helfant tells us that the 1972 album Conference of the Birds by British jazzman Dave Holland was inspired by the songs of birds outside his London apartment. "Surprisingly," he writes, "Mr. Holland is a virtuoso of the double bass and the cello – two instruments not associated with tweeting and warbling."

We pass the baton now to Ken McEvoy of Toronto, who says contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara incorporated pre-recorded bird songs into some of his compositions, most notably the 1972 Cantus Arcticus. As well, "Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer has long used the external soundscape in his compositions, and his String Quartet No 10 (Winter Birds) was influenced by bird songs and the movement of birds."

Mr. McEvoy also tells us that Birds on the Wires by Brazilian multimedia artist Jarbas Agnelli was inspired by birds, but in a different way. Mr. Agnelli "noted that a flock of birds sitting between telephone poles on five lines of wire looked just like musical notation, and wrote [the piece] based on a transcription of the birds' positions."

Over now to Thomas Shilcock of Burlington, Ont., who says Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) wrote a suite for small orchestra entitled The Birds. Its movements include The Dove, The Hen (which ends abruptly on a piercing note depicting how most hens' lives end), The Nightingale and The Cuckoo.

Finally, Charles Owen of Shelburne, Ont., writes: "On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring by Frederick Delius (1862-1934) starts with oboe and mixed strings exchanging approximations of cuckoo calls. The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) contains wonderful sounds of the lark high up in the air."

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THE QUESTION

Lynn McCallum of Halifax asks if there's any truth to the belief that bones that have been broken can help you predict the weather.

THE ANSWER

"Back in podiatric medical school in San Francisco," writes Lloyd Nesbitt of Toronto, "a local rheumatologist taught us that grandmothers would often be able to tell that it was going to rain as their bunions (enlarged big-toe joints) would be sore." This is because, during the fall in atmospheric pressure that indicates impending rain, the joints can expand.

However, he doubts that bones that have been broken would react in a similar fashion. "In fact, often when a foot bone has healed from a break . . . it heals in a thickened or stronger state than it was originally. Unless the fracture involved an adjacent joint, then a broken bone would be unlikely to enable you to predict the weather."

HELP WANTED

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Is there a "proper" way to dispose of worn-out Canadian flags? Herb Thorburn of Vernon, B.C., wants to know.

Karen Stewart of Peterborough, Ont., writes: "How much difference does using air-conditioning make to the fuel efficiency of my car?"

"Nature does everything for a reason," writes Robert Landry of Montreal. "Turtles are slow. What benefits do they get from it?"

Let's hear from you: If you have the answer to one of these questions (or a question of your own) send an e-mail to wisdom@globeandmail.com. Please include your location and a daytime phone number.

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