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On Feb. 4, the American Guild of Organists Milwaukee chapter presented a members’ recital and lecture on birdsong that included a paleontological component contributed by Carthage’s own Professor Thomas Carr.

Prof. Thomas Carr Prof. Thomas Carr The event — Dawn Chorus: Canticum Melodia Canticum Avis Canticum Rex — was hosted in the lofty and ornate Church of the Gesu, located on the Marquette University campus, to an audience that included interested organists, biologists, and clergy. The program was divided into three musical sections, each preceded by brief lectures given by scientists and the featured musicians.

In his first address, Prof. Carr discussed how the answer to the long-vexing question of the origin of birds was set in motion by two major events in the history of biology: the 1859 publication of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” that proposed that all life can be united on a single tree of life and the 1966 book by German entomologist Willi Hennig, called “Phylogenetic Systematics,” which provided the method for recovering the tree of life.

In the third lecture segment of the program, Prof. Carr outlined the evidence for the dinosaurian identify of birds, pointing out that many of the features that we associate with ‘birdness’ — feathers, hollow bones, three-fingered hands, flight — actually first evolved in non-bird dinosaurs that birds later inherited. Since the overall theme of the recital was birdsong and, specifically, the dawn chorus, Prof. Carr concluded by saying that major groups of modern birds — waterfowl, game birds, loons, cormorants — had evolved before the mass extinction that killed off all non-bird dinosaurs and so the dawn chorus would have been a mainstay of Cretaceous mornings.

The event crescendoed with the closing performance of Karel Suchy’s (piano) “Dawn Chorus,” which included the participation of John Jordan (organ registration), Wilhelm Matthies (MaaTeeSaa), and Ben Taft (tenor). The MaaTeeSaa is an original string instrument created by M. Matthies.

The American Guild of Organists Milwaukee chapter thanked Dean Rosko and the Church of the Gesu for hosting the recital and for the use of their facilities. The members’ recital and lecture on birdsong was organized by Karel Suchy, who invited Prof. Carr’s participation. The artistic collaborations between Mr. Suchy and Prof. Carr began with a keyboard (Mr. Suchy) and spoken word (Prof. Carr) performance in summer 2023 at the Grassroots Open Mic, which is hosted by the Spectrum School of the Arts and Gallery of the Arts in Racine, Wisconsin.

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