CONTENTS OF THIS PAGE
By Sebastian Vallelunga
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Chapter 4: How Timbrados Sing
The Anatomy and Physiology of Canary Song
Just like people and many other creatures, canaries are known to possess a voice organ. Unlike that of people, the specialized voice box of the canary is lower along the respiratory system at the juncture of the two bronchia. This organ, unique to birds, is called the syrinx.
Within the syrinx are found the tympaniform membranes, which although vaguely similar to the human vocal chords are greater in number. The tension on these membranes is controlled both by the pressure placed on the syrinx by the tracheal air sacs and on muscular action. According to avian expert Alan Feduccia, the songbirds have three pairs of muscles to control sound production in the syrinx (Feduccia 169). In part because of its position at the divergence of the windpipe, the syrinx allows the bird to control sets of tympaniform membranes independently of one another which, in turn, allows the canary to produce different sounds at the same time in a sort of internal duet.
An amazing aspect of the respiratory system of birds that allows them to produce prolonged sound is that respiration occurs by means of “mini-breaths” during song. It is estimated that a singing bird is simultaneously taking 25 shallow breaths per second while emitting its song; this allows the pressure in the respiratory system to remain relatively stable throughout the duration of the song, making it unnecessary for the bird to stop to catch its breath. In addition, while mammals have an active inhalation phase, controlled by muscular action on the diaphragm, and a passive exhalation phase when the air escapes as the diaphragm returns to its resting position, all phases of the bird’s respiration have passive and active components due to the action of specific muscle groups. There is even a theory which suggests that air moves around the respiratory system of birds in one direction (i.e.: air flows into the posterior thoracic air sacs, the center back of the system, during inhalation; during the following exhalation and subsequent inhalation that same air moves across the lungs to the anterior thoracic air sacs, the center front of the system, traveling in one direction; finally, this same air is pushed out of the anterior air sacs with the next exhalation—see Perez de Cortes) in contrast to the two-way flow found in mammals. This one-way flow is thought to be the reason that the canary in the coal mine was an effective warning of bad air because it makes the canary’s exchange of gases during breathing so much more efficient than our own.
Song Learning in Timbrados
Within the first two months of its life, the young male timbrado begins a singing career which can last a decade or more. The first phase of this career is taken up with learning its song craft. As the young bird’s system secretes a higher level of the hormone testosterone, the song center of the brain begins to grow and the canary will spend much of its day and, if some researchers are correct, many of its nightly dreams practicing its song. Apparently, the way for a canary to learn to sing is by singing, and just possibly by dreaming about singing. Practice and the development of the brain’s song center are thought to go hand in hand. As the young bird attempts to sing it can hear itself and this allows the brain to begin a process of fine tuning the song. This “sing-hear-adjust” cycle can happen in the presence of, or apart from, other singing males. If an adult male is housed nearby, the young bird will incorporate his song into the cycle as well. This allows the young songbird to adjust his song not only according to what he hears himself singing but also according to an adult model.
The intentional placing of an adult of good voice within the hearing of a learning bird is called tutoring. Some timbrado breeders feel that it is the only way to get good song out of the young birds while others, as we have already mentioned, feel that timbrados, especially of the floreado lines, should be forced to discover and develop their own genetic songs.
According to breeders who follow this non-tutored approach, it may be sufficient to isolate the birds by means of an acoustical barrier such as music from a radio or CD player, but this would have to be set up to play at any time the birds might sing, from early in the morning to late in the evening. And, although this solution seems to work with birds of the same song line, it is thought to be an inadequate preventative for birds of different varieties or breeds whose very different sounds could corrupt one another’s songs with foreign notes.
From the time the young males begin to practice singing, they should be pulled from the chick flights and placed into all-male groups in large flights or small aviaries. The larger the flying room in these aviaries, the better; the exercise given to the young birds by flying builds up the respiratory system as well as the musculature of the chest and neck area, all of which double as components of the song equipment, and adds to the health and stamina of the birds in general (it is also said that strong flight muscles are important to the hen which uses part of the same muscle group for egg laying). The young males should remain in these flights until fall, until about October unless one is training for very early contests, when each male should be placed into a cage of his own. This can be accomplished either by giving each young male the use of ½ of a double breeding cage or, alternately, by moving him into his own song cage. This will encourage the young birds to stake out this housing as their own individual territories. When this happens the young birds will begin to sing even more in order to defend that territory; this increase will move the birds toward “closing” their song. Although the birds have been practicing many imperfect song variations up to this point as part of their learning, the establishment of a territory will cause them to gradually settle on an adult version of their song. If you plan to put your birds into song contests, or even if you simply desire to have them sing at their best in order to more easily place them with new owners, it is of the utmost importance to formally train your birds. When it comes right down to it, every young male canary is trained, that is “conditioned to sing” in a manner of speaking; whether this is done by setting him up for failure as a shy singer with a limited repertoire in neglect of an effective program or it is done by setting him up for success as a confident singer with a wide and pleasing repertoire in the use of the correct set of circumstances.
The first factor which must be taken into consideration is genetics. Song canaries inherit four very important components when it comes to singing: 1. the desire or predisposition to sing (also called “freedom of song”), 2. the physical song apparatus (the syrinx or voice box and the muscles associated with this, the mouth and tongue, and the lungs and air sacs), 3. the neurological and psychological components including the brain’s song center and the bird’s ability to learn song thru listening—to other birds or to itself—and repetition), 4. individual song components (certain tours or sounds seem to be “hard wired” in different breeds and lines of canaries).
All of these components must be appropriately “selected for” in the breeding program before any young can be trained. This is done by choosing birds from a line that produces a majority of birds which seem to enjoy singing and do it frequently and which sing a song that sounds right for the breed or variety with at least a minimum level of proficiency in the most important tours of the breed or variety. This selection applies to both cocks and hens; it will not profit you in the long run to buy a great male and then breed him to hens of poor or unknown quality or lineage! However, since the hens generally do not sing, one must judge their quality based on the males which are closely related to them.
Most song canary breeders generally advocate the use of an adult male of the same line to act as a tutor for the young, but this is not universally the case, as has been shown above. A good tutor can teach correct diction and actually encourage the young to broaden their repertoires of tours so long as he has a wide repertoire himself. On the other hand, the young will copy any flaws the older male may have right along with the good parts of his song. Many breeders of timbrados advocate a non-tutored approach wherein the young males never hear the song of adult males and are allowed to discover their own genetic song. Again, this is especially true of floreados which will often develop much more elaborate floreos or flourishes of their own than what they would otherwise copy from adults.
For good or for ill, certain breeds and varieties are more susceptible to learning the songs of other canaries. American singers and timbrados are the most teachable (or corruptible, depending on your point of view) followed by waterslagers, and the rollers are the least likely to learn tours from other canaries.
If tutors are to be used, they should be placed in smaller cages near the young males as soon as these older birds have undergone the molt and are singing their “fall” song. Later, once more formal contest training has begun, the tutors should be near at hand at all times as the young will continue to fine tune their voices right up until contest time.
By way of comparison, American singer breeders barely do any formal training for shows at all once the birds have been tutored or even played tapes of both wild birds and other canaries (the strategy is to allow the bird to pick and choose his tours from among a wide range of samples presented to him when young). The only formal training consists of placing the birds into their song or “shelf” cages and a few car rides so that the birds will be accustomed to traveling by the time of the shows.
This means that American singer canaries are allowed to develop their songs in full light right up until the day of the show. Once the birds go to the show, they are housed in a dimly lit room under bed sheets, but they are never in total darkness even then. Remarkably, the American singers almost always begin singing right away once they are staged before the judge (in random groups of eight or ten) despite the fact that they don’t undergo the rigorous conditioning to sing on cue that the members of some breeds go through.
Now, let’s move on to some timbrado training specifics. Last year I used a modification of this American singer approach in training my classic timbrados. I placed the young birds in individual double breeder cages (½ per young male) starting in October, just as described above, and allowed them to continue practicing their songs in full light. In November (about 4 or 5 weeks before the show) I moved them into individual song cages, but they were placed so they could see each other in stacks of 4 birds per stack. They remained this way until they were calm in the cages (about a week). By that time every bird was singing most of the day. At this point the cages were moved so that the birds could not see each other (since I used Valencia style cages, they were just turned so the solid side blocked their view into the other cages, but cardboard or wooden dividers could be used with other cage styles). After about four days, the birds were placed into open song cabinets which where later closed up at the end of that week, except for two 30 minute “sing-out” periods per day. Each cabinet has four 1¼ inch air/light holes on the front and these remained uncovered and the boxes where still in the same bright room the young males had been in since the start of their training; this phase also lasted a week. It was only during the final week or two before the contest that the cabinets were covered first with a sheet and later with heavy towels in order to prepare the birds for their stay in the darker contest holding room. The daily 30 minute sing-out periods continued until travel day. Once the young birds were housed in closed cabinets, I loaded these into the car for a couple of short drives and one longer one simulating the drive to the contest. I always gave the birds a sing out period after each ride and by the second trip every bird sang. By the way, after a very short time the birds are expert at finding the food and water in complete darkness and even practice singing in the dark.
Rather than the two 30 minute sing-out periods to encourage singing right away, some European waterslager breeders have gone to an automatic timer that turns the room lights on for 10 minutes five times a day. This would give the birds more than double the practice at beginning to sing as soon as they are in the light than the 30 minute system. It should work just as well with other breeds.
The song cabinets I mentioned are really carrying boxes as well as darkening chambers; each cabinet or box holds 4 song cages (one team). These boxes keep the birds calmer when they are being moved and constitute a safe and familiar place for the birds in the strange surroundings of the holding room. If at all possible, such boxes should be used for transportation and training. Of course, you can train your birds without these using beach towels or cardboard boxes to create the darkness required.
The Song Tours of the Timbrado
Table 1 below shows a list of the tours of the Spanish timbrado song canary and their point values according to both the FOCDE and the FOE.
FOCDE Tour: Value FOE Tour: Value
Timbres 9 pts. Timbre Metalico 9 pts.
Variaciones Rodadas 18 pts. Timbre Intermedio 6 pts.
Timbre Profundo 13 pts.
Timbre de Agua 9 pts. Nota Batida 6 pts.
Cascabel 9 pts. Cascabel 12 pts.
Floreos 27 pts. Floreos de Adorno 18 pts.
Agua Semiligada 9 pts.
Agua Lenta 18 pts.
Floreos Lentos 27 pts. Chiau-Chiau 6 pts.
Piau-Piau 6 pts.
Campana 9 pts. Campana 6 pts.
Cloqueos 18 pts. Cloqueos 16 pts.
Castañuelas 9 pts. Castañuelas 9 pts.
Variaciones Conjuntas 27 pts. Duos 14 pts.
Impression 3 pts. None -
Team Harmony 1 to 4 pts. None -
The negative sounds: Nasalidad, Rascada, and Estridencia may be punished with a deduction of up to 3 pts. for each in both scoring systems.
FOCDE Classification of the birds:
1st Class—90 to 100 points
2nd Class—82 to 89 points
3rd Class—70 to 81 points
Insufficient—up to 69 points
FOE Classification of the birds:
1st Class—86 to 100 points
2nd Class—71 to 85 points
3rd Class—55 to 70 points
Insufficient—up to 54 points
100 is the highest score a judge may give.
N.B.—Tours listed across from one another on the above table are more or less equivalent even though the names vary from system to system.
The following definitions are not meant to be exhaustive by any means; for fuller definitions of the tours from the FOCDE perspective see Appendix 1.
FOCDE Timbre and FOE Timbre Metalico
This is classified as a tour of continuous emission rhythm which means it is sung at more than 10 beats per second, faster than the human ear can distinguish. It is a tour of metallic tone or timbre. It has a limited phonetic text consisting of the consonant “R” and the vowel “I”. Onomatopoeically, it would be pronounced: “riririririririririri”. It takes it name from the Spanish word for the old-fashioned electric door bell.
FOCDE Variaciones Rodadas, FOE Timbre Intermedio and Timbre Profundo
This is classified as a tour of continuous emission rhythm. It is a tour of neutral to hollow tone or timbre. It has a limited phonetic text consisting of the consonant “R” and the vowels “E”, “O”, “U”, and the combinations “EI” and “OU”. Onomatopoeically, it may be pronounced: “rerere”, “rororo”, “rururu”, “reireirei”, or “rourourou”. Critics claim that it can cause the timbrado’s song to be too much like that of the roller canary if too prevalent in the song.
FOCDE Timbre de Agua and FOE Nota Batida
This is classified as a tour of semicontinuous emission rhythm which means it is sung at between 5 and 9 beats per second, just distinguishable by the human ear. For FOCDE this is a tour of watery timbre while FOE would insist it has only a slight water accent. It has a limited phonetic text consisting of the consonants “BL” and sometimes “S” and the vowel “I”. Onomatopoeically, it may be pronounced: “bli-bli-bli” and sometimes “blis-blis-blis”. Critics warn that all of the tours with a watery accent can cause the timbrado’s song to be too much like that of the waterslager canary if too prevalent in the song or if the accent is too watery.
FOCDE and FOE Cascabel
This is classified as a tour of semicontinuous rhythm. It is a tour of metallic timbre. It has a limited phonetic text consisting of the consonants “L” and “N” and the vowel “I” and would be pronounced “lin-lin-lin”. Its name comes from the Spanish word for sleigh bells, or jingle bells, and it should sound like one of these being shaken vigorously.
FOCDE Floreos and FOE Floreos de Adorno (in part)
The FOCDE Floreos and part of the FOE Floreos de Adorno are classified as tours of semicontinuous emission rhythm. Under this heading they are of metallic or hollow timbre. They are of unlimited phonetic text and any consonant or vowel that wouldn’t place them in another tour category would be acceptable. A typical onomatopoeic example would be: “tui-tui-tui”. The name comes from the Spanish words for a musical flourish or fanfare.
FOCDE Agua Semiligada and FOE Floreos de Adorno (in part)
The FOCDE Agua Semiligada, which would fall under the Floreo de Adorno rubric in FOE scoring, is classified as a tour of semicontinuous emission rhythm. The tour is one of watery timbre, although the FOE would prefer to describe it as a floreo with a slight water accent. This tour is of limited phonetic text consisting of the consonants “BL”, “GL”, “VL”, and sometimes ending in “D”, and the vowels “A”, “O”, “U” and would be pronounced: “bla-bla-bla”, “blo-blo-blo”, “blu-blu-blu”, “blad-blad-blad”, “glo-glo-glo”, “vlo-vlo-vlo”, etc. Its name translates as semi-bound water.
FOCDE Agua Lenta and FOE Floreos de Adorno (in part)
The FOCDE Agua Lenta, which would also fall under the Floreo de Adorno rubric in FOE scoring, is classified as a tour of discontinuous emission rhythm which means it is sung at slower than 5 beats per second and is, therefore, easily distinguishable by the human ear. The tour is one of watery timbre, although, again in this case, the FOE would prefer to describe it as a floreo with a slight water accent. This tour is of limited phonetic text consisting of the consonants “BL”, “GL”, “VL”, and sometimes ending in “D” or “B”, and the vowels “A”, “O”, “U”, sometimes in combination with “I”, and would be pronounced: “blob, blob, blob”, “blou, blou, blou”, “bloui, bloui, bloui”, “glub, glub, glub”, etc. Its name translates as slow water.
FOCDE Floreos Lentos (in part) and FOE Floreos de Adorno (in part)
This tour is classified as discontinuous in emission rhythm. It is of metallic or hollow timbre under this heading. It is of unlimited phonetic text and any consonant or vowel that wouldn’t place it in another tour category would be acceptable. Typical onomatopoeic examples would be: “tuii, tuii, tuii”, “tuio, tuio, tuio”, “fliorio, fliorio, fliorio”, “ta-a, ta-a, ta-a”, “do-oili, do-oili, do-oili”, “cueli, cueli, cueli”, etc. The name comes from the Spanish words for a slow musical flourish or fanfare.
FOCDE Floreos Lentos (in part) and FOE Chiau-Chiau and Piau-Piau
These tours are classified as discontinuous in emission rhythm. They are of metallic or hollow timbre under this heading. They are of limited phonetic text made up of the consonants “CH” or “P” and the vowel group “IAU” and are expressed onomatopoeically as: “chiau, chiau, chiau” and “piau, piau, piau” respectively. Although these tours fall into the category of Floreos Lentos and are not listed as faults on the FOCDE score sheet, some judges would discourage their selection for breeding under that system. The names are obviously onomatopoeic.
FOCDE and FOE Campana
This is a tour of discontinuous emission rhythm and is firmly in the metallic timbre range. It is of a limited phonetic text as far as its ending is concerned which must consist of the consonants “N”, “NK”, or “NG” in order to give a bell-like accent. Typical onomatopoeic examples would be: “tan, tan, tan”, “tlan, tlan, tlan”, “tlonk, tlonk, tlonk”, “tonk, tonk, tonk”, “tang, tang, tang”; there is also a specialty Campana called “church bell” pronounced: “ti-long, ti-long, ti-long”. The name comes from the Spanish word for bell.
FOCDE and FOE Cloqueos
This tour can be emitted in semicontinuous or discontinuous rhythm and is in the hollow timbre range. It is of limited phonetic text made up of the consonants “CL” and “K” and the vowels “O” and “U”. Typical onomatopoeic examples would be: “clo-clo-clo”, “clok-clok-clok”, “clu-clu-clu”, “cluk-cluk-cluk”, or “clo, clo, clo”, etc. The name comes from the Spanish word for “cluck” which is the call of a mother hen.
FOCDE and FOE Castañuelas
This tour is emitted in semicontinuous rhythm and is in the hollow timbre range. It is of limited phonetic text made up of the consonants “CL” and “K” and the vowel “A” and is expressed onomatopoeically as: “cla-cla-cla”, “clak-clak-clak” The name comes from the Spanish word for castanets. Most experts consider this to be a variety of Cloqueos.
FOCDE Variaciones Conjuntas and FOE Duos
Because this tour is actually the simultaneous delivery of two or more of the ones already covered, it can be delivered in any single or multiple rhythms, timbres, and combinations of phonetic text. The FOCDE term comes from the Spanish words meaning “conjoined variations” and the FOE term comes from the Spanish word meaning “duet”.
Feduccia, Alan. The Age of Birds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard, 1980.
Perez de Cortes, Carmen. The Characteristics and Mechanism of Song in Roller Canaries. http://abirdinthehand.info
Justifying an Opinion on the Canary Called Spanish Timbrado
By Antonio Drove Aza, Pajaros no. 13, 1961
Translated from the Spanish by Sebastian Vallelunga
(This article is one recommended by Luis Sanchez, a real help and support for American timbradistas, who persuaded me to translate it for the group. The original Spanish version can be found in the Historical section of the Spanish Timbrado canary website, along with many other fantastic resources, at: http://www.timbrado.com Mr. Sanchez feels that this article is a classic which is authored by one of the historical greats in the culture of Spanish song canaries--trans.)
We have seen various articles published in this magazine, with the motive of investigating the song of the canario del Pais, which uphold criteria very much different from one another on the song as well as the name of the Spanish timbrado. One group which does not recognize any other song nor name, insists that one must continue to call the birds timbrados and persist in applying the actual "Codex of the Spanish Timbrado"; others believe that this name is absurd because the timbres, as defined in the Codex, are rolls and, therefore, are not basic themes of this mode of song, and so timbrado is a misnomer; others, finally, believe that changing from "timbrado" to "Spanish" and keeping to the actual directives of the Codex, are sufficient to follow the cultural effort undertaken in the breeding of this interesting canary; its breeders should not heed the confusion and disorientation caused by the various repeated criticisms which are in part the intention of their exponents.
We must convince everyone that there never existed, on anyone's part, even the smallest bit of animosity toward the cultivation of good canarios del Pais. That which could be taken as ruinous intention is no more than a proper consequence of the lack of comprehension of the technical concepts applied by those who cultivate this modality of song, and I am sure that there would be a more favorable disposition toward, and a greater success of, a discussion of technical criteria, if in the conscience of all aficionados of good will, there existed more firmly an understanding of what, in general, the song of these birds is.
Disgracefully, there have been instilled in the minds of the breeders of the canario del Pais, certain mistaken technical principals and concepts, which are very difficult to uproot, mainly a prejudice against the personality of the roller fancy and what it intends. Those of us who, over the course of many years, have participated in the culture of the roller, are or should be, contrary to general appearances, in a much better technical condition to interpret what bird song is.
The first confusing idea which is sustained by the breeders of the canario del Pais, and which is precisely and clearly foreseeable, is the belief that only the names of the notes of the roller canary would be applied to the song of this race of canaries, when in reality there are many wild canaries which emit similar notes, if only for that reason we must name the tours using different forms, those adopted internationally, or in the corresponding translation of each of the countries.
We all know that birds, even of the same species, never sing exactly the same way. Nevertheless, if we analyze the songs of different individuals, we will observe a certain similarity of structure and phonetic composition in certain passages; some sing it in a fast rhythm, others perfectly modulate it with pleasant vocalizations, others express it languidly. Definitely, one note can captivate with various characteristics depending on the temperaments of the birds and, above all, on the particular conditions and faculties of their respective song producing organs, in that these are liable to cause variations in the tonality and depth in conjunction with the physical conditions responsible for resonance, especially the shape of the bucal cavity and the movement of the beak.
The flute notes produced by a nightingale, linnet, greenfinch, thrush, etc., etc., are similar, because the phonetic structure is similar, differentiation occurs only in the rhythm (more or less quickly), in the modulation (voice inflection), in the tone (grave, sharp, deep, muffled), and in the form of expression (hard, severe, happy, sad). They are all flutes, and, without exception, in spite of the name flute, not because of it, this note is distinctive in the roller canary.
Equally, this occurs with the trills or water notes, cloqueos (glucks--trans.), cascabeleos (jingle bells--trans.), in both their simple and composite forms, and, in spite of there being very many types of birds which emit them in various phrases, each with a particular rhythm, modality, tonality, and form of expression, we must still apply the proper corresponding name to each sound when any bird executes it.
Rolls, on the other hand (read here: timbres that are high, medium, or low, according to the Codex), alone are properly and dominantly definitive of the roller canary, and are used by very few wild birds: the serin or chamariz, with its varied repertoire of intermixed and imperfect timbred rolls, and the greenfinch, with its "torreos", both short and long. We shall later see the difference between a roll (a "timbre", according to the Codex) and a timbre (a cascabeleo, according to the same Codex).
As an old-time cultivator and modest expert on the production of good song in the canario del Pais, it is logical for me to voice my nonconformity, both verbally and in writing, with the first intention of creating and establishing a standardized song type which was beyond being simply antagonizing toward the roller: First, it sought to establish a race of canarios del Pais of 16 cm length (about 6 1/4 inches--trans.), to antagonize the "Spanish canary" proposed by the U. C. of Barcelona at the Avicultural Congress held in Madrid in 1948, a proposal which received approbation with the good pleasure of those, precisely, who later attempted to establish a standard which is antagonizing toward the diminutive "Spanish canary". Later, in 1951, before the fracas of the enormous and rather ordinary canary which they intended to establish, it was considered, and wisely so, that size was of secondary importance, giving way to the importance of the song, so that the actual Codex was established, compiling, after laborious interpretations, the meritorious notes which later came to define the new Spanish timbrado canary.
It is logical that those who knew no other modality of song of the Pais than that sung by mixed and ordinary canaries, translated inexact concepts into the Codex, precisely those of the false appreciation of the impure canaries but without, up to that date and in spite of all other considerations, at least excusing all previous error.
In my opinion, there exist, among others, three fundamental errors, which will be later demonstrated, that are innate in the makeup of the Codex: first, the false name of Spanish timbrado, due to the erroneous concept of the timbre, for this motive as well as the considering of this modality of song as basic and thus encouraging rolls (more or less imperfect), which are always improper to the canario del Pais. Second, the encouraging, in the same way, of coarseness of expression in regards to the phonetic texts of those notes of merit which were established, and third, not having more precisely included the water variations (splashes) as basic to this song and these, either alone or exchanged with the cloqueos or accompanied by flutes, are those which must constitute the song of a good canario del Pais, completely distinct from the cadenced and severe roller.
This modality of song, which had been previously praised and which repeatedly attempted to instill its cultivation among the aficionados of the canario del Pais, had existed effectively and we remember with nostalgia the old-time Spanish breeders: it was the song of the celebrated canaries of Vich, the city of my birth, in this Catalan locality we cultivated it in my childhood and this meritorious song was known beyond the region for not containing disagreeable notes and, instead, having a multitude of variations which were well vocalized and modulated, in a repertoire of contrasting diverse tonalities, in which, beyond recognizing beautiful and meritorious clapoteos (splashes--trans.), cloqueos, and extremely variable flutes, one could hear expressed complete stanzas of the nightingale's song reproduced with discreet depth and delicate tone of voice.
Disgracefully, this song was lost due to unfortunate crosses: first, with the Holland canary (Dutch or Northern frill), as a consequence the products were gawky and also inherited a truly ordinary song with consequent "chiau-chiaus" and "piau-piaus" which were never really accepted by the most prestigious breeders of Vich. A short time later, due to the well-deserved fame acquired by the harz edelroller (German roller or harzer--trans.), the few pure canaries that had escaped crossing were, around the year 1914, crossed with German imports, yielding birds of mixed song with low-quality rolls and rolled timbres and which, instead of raising song quality in general, caused the loss of the characteristic defining mark and unmistakable sound of a happy, beautiful, and meritorious song, which had conquered all the provinces of Spain and elsewhere with its fame.
The snobbery of new types and songs of foreign canaries was the cause of the breeders of Vich, and, in general, of all Spain, to be influenced by the desire to incorporate into their own canaries the characteristics of alien canaries, ruining, in the end, the genuine song, type, and size (12-13 centimeters) of the canary of Vich, transforming it, in a very few years, into what is called the canario del Pais, an ambiguous name accepted not as defining some particular canary for its racial purity, but as indicating morphological irregularities and graded mixture of song. The irregular characteristics are easy to prove by observing actual canaries, and these demonstrate the unfortunate crosses which were the past objective of the breeders of Spain in general.
For this reason, it is no wonder, that those with the best of intentions established the "Codex of the Spanish Timbrado", confusing which certain notes should be considered as basic to this modality of song, when, in reality, what they established was no more than a set of reminiscences, more or less an accusation, of the crosses of yesteryear and that, as we have seen, were those which regrettably compromised the purity of the song of the canary of Vich.
If we pay attention to the composition and phonetic expression of the timbres as they are defined and explained in the "Regulations for Judging Timrado Song", we can verify that what is defined as such are authentic rolls, since they are "sounds produced that are uninterrupted and continuous", and this is shown by the presence of a rapidly struck consonant "r" or "erre" (The Spanish rolled "rr"--trans.) with the vowels, obtaining a repetition or roll, of a quality and artistic appearance of that of a roller canary, which is much more perfect and acknowledged when smooth and free when heard; these are, respectively, consonants and vowels put into motion.
In order to understand the timbre note, it was compared to the acoustic effect of an electric doorbell; in better defining the name adopted, we must not ignore that a rapid tapping (owing to reverberation) of 20-35 times per second on any material: metal, wood, etc., produces similar repetitions or rolls, but of a distinct pitch of sound (tone); the beats of percussion represent the consonants of the phonetic composition, and the vowels are represented by the resonance of the material affected by the percussion, and one perceives a repetition of continuous regular movement, in which the vowel is variable according to the material used. Thus, on crystal or metal we perceive a sound with the vowel "i", and on wood or cardboard we perceive one with the vowels "o" or "u", and we perceive an "e" or "ei" if inadequate or defective material is used (cracked wood, for example), producing in the same way pure repetitions, but of imperfect sound, and for the most part, less agreeable: riririri, rorororo, rererere, reireireirei.
On the other hand, when there is no beat of the consonants on the vowels or, similarly, if the tapping is relatively slow, then we perceive a sound which is interrupted between its syllables, corresponding to a rhythm of 4 to 7 beats per second, we have, not a roll, due to the fact that there is no repetition, but that which is internationally referred to as a "timbre". In the Codex it is called a cascabeleo, a correct name which is perfectly suited, the onomatopoeic sound produced is: lin-lin-lin-lin, and it is much more agreeable when sung very smoothly (with a soft percussion): li-li-li-li-li.
We must accept, without any doubt, that what are called "timbres" in the Codex are in reality rolls no matter how much we would wish to disguise them in the harsh expression and disagreeable vocalizations of some birds; they can always be placed within the rolled character which permits us to see them for what they truly are. As we see it, this erroneous concept of "timbre" has conducted us to give the false name Spanish timbrado, because the presence of the rolls seems to have compelled them to be considered as basic to the song of the canario del Pais.
This grave anomaly within the Codex, apart from the undoubted confusion that it has created, could, in the same way, conduct us to problems in the character of judges, as it is absurd to disqualify a canary for emitting rolls, perfectly and categorically defined as such, when the Codex clearly values them and considers them to be basic.
Nor should chiau-chiaus or piau-piaus be considered as basic to good canario del Pais song. These very ordinary flutes, the same as those called castanets (a variety of cloqueos): chas-chas-chac-chac, have always been a motive to discredit anyone who encouraged them in their canaries. The estimation we maintained in my time, already remote, as breeders of the canary of Vich and which is still maintained by the countries which are most advanced in European canariculture, is the use of the spiteful term "choppers" for the canaries that emit these rude expressions which are truly disagreeable.
If the breeders of the canario del Pais will recognize that the chiau-chiaus and piau-piaus, pronounced onomatopoeically, produce a disagreeable impression, and if equally they recognized tomorrow, that the castanets with their very ordinary "trallazos" do not lend themselves to being freely heard, and if, in the same way, the "timbres", with their rolls in "e" and "ei" produce nasal and cracked sounds, we must still admit as certain the second error of the Codex, that it promotes a hardness of expression, incompatible with and inadmissible to the properly educated work of canariculture: the unfolding of art, not the creation of ugliness.
Whoever has an idea about the song of canaries and various birds and has heard the canario del Pais, has observed that a good part of its song is unfolded in imperfections, while, in the end, true water variations both simple and in combination, do not figure into the Codex as well-defined notes which should be stimulated and bettered through cultivation. The song organs of the pure canarios del Pais, are physically the best known for emitting these with perfection due to the innate predisposition toward this modality of watery song.
With this article I have attempted to justify the "why" behind my repeated criticism of the Spanish timbrado and, at the same time, to help all those who I feel affection for to understand the principal errors that are maintained by aficionados who breed such song canaries. I don't wish to cite testimony which guarantees the correctness of my position as I labor to promote the good aspects of the song of the canario del Pais nor to recall the old-time sayings of the brotherhood in order to establish common, truly technical norms which define that which must be a part of this beautiful and meritorious song. What I wish to do now is to relate a certain "unfortunate" action of mine at the Oviedo contest in 1952, which resulted in a secondary consequence, the discovery of certain pure canarios del Pais (Vich) and whose descendents were, in actuality, sensational at the last contest in the Asturian capital. The events are as follows:
In 1952 I was asked to judge the roller song at the Oviedo contest. Having completed my mission, I was invited to judge, in the same way, the song of the canario del Pais, since I had done this for that mode of song various times in Madrid. My surprise was great when I was presented with score cards printed with the notes of merit outlined by the actual Codex only recently established. Given my own particular criteria on this song, which I had always invariably maintained, I did not accept them and instead judged based on conformity to the general impression of the song of each canary on a predetermined maximum point scale. I don't know if the embarrassment I felt was for my adopted attitude or in response to the distrust reflected in the faces of my listeners, those running the contest, when I told them. Eventually, I had the ultimate satisfaction of completing the judging of the canaries on their conformity to the criteria now known to the readers.
In accord with the absurd way in which Spanish canariculture has conducted itself, I went to Aviles to see some relatives. One of them spoke to me about a friend of his, D. Manuel Gonzalez Monteserin, that owned some canaries that "sang very well" and I was invited to listen to them. It was a great surprise to me to hear those canaries, members of a race that had been totally lost in Vich, although I well remembered their song, type, size, and plumage. Such was the astonishment and joy at this find, that when I returned home to Madrid, I received a newspaper insert called "Voz de Aviles" in a gazette in which the discovery was cited along with the praises merited by these canaries.
This year I have been invited anew to judge the roller contest at Oviedo. Thanks to my friend D. Santiago Ruiz, who was also going there in order to judge the song of the Pais, I had the satisfaction, this time in a double portion, to listen to many good canarios del Pais that caused a sensation; afterwards, their breeder D. Vicente Arguelles Villaverde asked me to recall my discovery of nine years earlier, and told me that the canaries I had been admiring came through certain crosses from the canaries I had seen in Aviles and had been publicly acknowledged in the newspaper of that Asturian city, whose canaries had been preserved.
You will permit me, in modesty, to commend Mr. Arguelles who did not widen the repertoire of the song of his canaries with those "notes" which are claimed to be basic to the canario del Pais. He possesses a very good lineage which can be further purified, procuring an even greater possible modulation, diction, and free vocalization, of all the notes, and stimulating the water variations, cloqueos, and flutes. With these notes, in their simple and combined forms, there will be obtained a true song of great merit, which would cause a great sensation at the international contests.
Let me repeat now what I stated publicly in Oviedo, invited by my friend Ruiz, when listening to this lot of canaries: "This is what we must expect of the Spanish song canary; everything else that has been praised is false and absurd."
Is it possible to establish a new Codex which would compile all of the beauty and variation with which the canaries of this song mode are capable of delighting us? We sincerely believe the answer to be yes. The Spanish affection holds the key.
(My personal feeling is that although the events described in this article and even the theories expressed on the Spanish song canaries may seem remote, there are certainly many lessons for us to learn here. The first is that we must avoid blocking any Spanish song canary of meritorious voice by establishing our own "Codex" in such a way that is too restrictive or too shortsighted, while at the same time allowing for the elimination of faulty tours and a consequent improvement of our birds in general. The stated goals of the USTF are a perfect example of the correct way to approach this issue. We must be ever vigilant in maintaining an openness and spirit of inclusivity: there must be plenty of room for birds of the classic, intermediate, and floreado lines to be successful before the judge. And, any set of rules which might cause the preference of one line over another would obviously be inappropriate--trans.)
Spanish Timbrado Breed Sheet
Once upon a time in America, the label harz or “hartz” canary was the most often abused canary term. That is, many who had common canaries for sale used these labels for them as sales boosters; this was due to the great popularity of the German or Harz roller of mountain villages like Sankt Andreasburg, Germany. This breed was known around the world for the smooth quality of its hollow rolled singing and such tours as its bass roll or knorr which is likely the deepest tour sung by any breed of canary. The world-wide popularity of the roller as the pre-eminent singing canary lasted for at least the hundred year span from 1850 to 1950 and this breed was exported from Germany in the hundreds of thousands during that time period and earlier. The German exporters, as part of their own range of sales promotions, encouraged the belief that the breed could only be raised successfully in the Harz Mountains and that its voice quality could only reach its potential when it developed in the cool mountain air of that region. Eventually, a whole hodge-podge of common canaries with a wide range of physical and song characteristics had come to be called domestic hartz canaries. At many local canary shows a class was included for these birds; often birds of other breeds that couldn’t meet their own breed standards were shown here. Today the domestic hartz classes are comprised of birds of a definite type and quality which are fast coming into their own. That fact notwithstanding, in canary circles there is a long tradition of “advantageous labeling”.
The currently favored example of this sort of thing centers on the label American singer.
According to sources (see Snider, Walker 324-326), the original American singers were developed by a small group of women some time before the breed’s debut at a 1934 Boston show. This is the paramount manufactured breed: the idea was to invent a breed which would, in both song and looks, please the average American pet owner. At the time, the German roller, continuously being refined for its characteristic smooth hollowness, was starting to fall into disfavor among some Americans as too quiet and too limited in its song range. The original breeders of the American singer decided to combine the high quality of the roller voice with the louder chopping song of the popular Border type canary. The goal also included the desire to incorporate some of the roundness and more upright stance of the Border canary into the new breed. A complicated breeding chart was developed and issued to new members of the American Singer Club which allowed breeders to develop a line of birds which only earned the label American singer after 4 years of cross breeding between Harz and Border. Carefully following the chart led to birds which had a 68¾% Harz ancestry and 31¼% Border ancestry. Presumably, the important factor in determining whether a bird was an American singer in the early days was this heritage since so much has been made of it.
I have heard breeders of American singers become absolutely unhinged at the thought that birds not bearing the ASC band are being called American singers by breeders, pet stores, and the general public. But, is this an example of justified outrage? That depends on what one should be able to expect an ASC band, or for that matter any breed band, to mean. The contention by at least some members seems to be that the American Singer Club has the exclusive legal right to use the name American singer canary; if this is so, it would be the only example of what would amount to an ipso facto copyright on the name of any breed of animal that I’ve ever heard of. With dogs, for example, there is nothing which keeps a non-papered puppy from being sold as this or that breed, buyers judge how valid the breeder’s claim is based on the appearance of the puppy and its parents; furthermore, a paper from the AKC is intended to warrant a puppy’s genetic background, but not its quality. As in any business arrangement involving the valuing and exchange of animals, the fairness of the deal is in direct proportion to the honesty of the individuals involved, but remember the term “horse trading” has come to mean attempting to get the better of someone in a deal (or at the very least maneuvering so as not to be taken advantage of).
Bands are useful things when one is trying to get information on any particular bird and in keeping accurate breeding records or pedigrees, but is it the band that determines the breed? Of course it’s not.
Is the ASC band somehow more of a guarantee of something (quality, identity, genetics) than other bands are? Here is where I’ll really get into trouble, I’m afraid, but the answer is a resounding “NO!” Today, it seems, very few show winning breeders have remained content to breed the “old fashioned” American singers. In order to succeed before the current crop of American singer judges, one must have an edge which goes beyond the birds of the past. Today’s judge is looking for that envelope pusher, that rare bird which incorporates a wide range of tours which have been traditionally found in other breeds of song canary, and beyond that, to incorporate new interpretations of song. One can hope to achieve some success by using good examples of such breeds as waterslagers as tutors for the young American singers in the hopes that something of the depth of tone and wateriness of this classic song breed will be picked up. This road will yield only limited success as determined by what proportion one’s particular line depends on nurture (learning) rather than nature (genetics) in developing song. Some lines are more able to take advantage of being tutored by other breeds, while others stubbornly sing almost exclusively what their ancestors sang.
According to some ASC breeders, however, there is a fast track that one needs to be on in order to succeed: namely, cross breeding with other song breeds (see also Tom for a mention of this practice in an American singer newsletter). Although, I’ve heard this referred to as the American singer breed’s “dirty little secret”, I am not talking about a few fringe breeders here who are attempting to improve their win records by means of desperate measures. I have had conversations with long-time winning and respected ASC breeders who have endorsed the practice. One even went so far as to provide a recipe similar to that of the original Boston ladies’ breeding chart, only with far fewer steps! According to this breeder, if one breeds a waterslager to an American singer hen (that way you get the double benefit of having the waterslager cock around to tutor as well) and then breed the F1 offspring back to American singers, the F2 offspring are, for all intents and purposes, American singers and may be banded and shown as such. This seems quite a far cry from the detailed, four-generation breeding chart of days gone by and the precise amount of Harz and Border ancestry that was spoken of in earlier days. Another benefit of doing this, if one assumes the judges are right in what they’re looking for, is that cross breeding to another breed doesn’t just yield a voice somewhere in between the two parent breeds or add the best sounds from each, it can also yield sounds that are unique because now all bets are off genetically and the complex phenomenon of bird voice hits a bump in the road and there’s no telling what will bounce out of the cart, good or bad! So, in terms of quality, identity, and genetics an ASC band doesn’t promise much.
The mere fact that a bird bears an ASC band is no guarantee of anything except that an ASC member-breeder (who is presumably working toward the same original goal of the ladies of Boston: namely, to attempt to create birds which are attractive in appearance and voice, that is, that they are bred to a sort of American ideal of what a singing canary should be) has banded them. I think that’s got to be enough for both the breeder and the cautious buyer who is willing to spend some time listening for the kind of song he wants before buying.
Since the term American singer canary can be reduced to simply mean a bird which was banded by a member of the American Singer Club, with no other warrantees expressed or implied, I find it rather difficult to get worked up about seeing birds for sale as American singers without the sacred band attached. However, it is interesting to note that the old tactic of latching onto a label with what might be called brand recognition is still alive and well in canary sales.
Many breeders band their birds for the sole purpose of being able to enter the birds in shows; but the banding requirements for shows vary and most simply require a closed, traceable band. This sort of band can be issued by a breed organization, a local multi-breed or multi-species bird club, or even some band manufacturers. Most of the song breeds, including American singers, are shown only with a special breed band at the breeds’ own song contests; even at the National, which allows any closed, traceable band, virtually all song canaries bear their own breeds’ specialty bands.
The information contained on a band varies somewhat. There is generally a letter code which identifies the issuing organization like the letters ASC for the American Singer Club. In addition, bands indicate the year they were issued with a two digit code like the numbers 04 for 2004; most bands also follow a color rotation which identifies the year at a glance. Finally, there is a code or codes which allow one to discover the breeder’s identity and to individually identify the bird; this can be done through continuous numbering (each breeder is issued bands with unique sequential numbers and the issuing organization keeps track of who got what set of numbers, the unique numbers also identifying each individual bird) or the band can bear a unique letter or number code for the breeder and individual band numbers to tell the birds apart.
We have already said that some breeders choose to use generic bands issued by multi-breed clubs, or even by band makers, rather than those issued by specific breed clubs. I have also heard some experienced breeders say that they buy all their bands from one breed club even though they use them on many different breeds of canary (their contention is that a traceable band is a traceable band, the issuing organization is irrelevant). Although I can see their point, there is a distinct danger that somewhere down the line (the same bird may change hands a number of times) a misunderstanding will occur as to the bird’s breed and this practice should be discouraged.
F1 and F2 are symbols used to designate the generations after a cross breeding. F1 is the first generation and F2 the second generation of cross bred birds.
In terms of quality, any bird labeled as an American singer could be a breeding experiment with an unpredictable voice. Even when two lines of the same breed are crossed, the voices of the offspring seldom combine the good characteristics of each line, so cross breeding to another breed can really throw a wrench in the song works. I don’t mean this to imply that the band of some other breed is an assurance of quality here; as has been already stated, crossing lines within a breed can cause just as much trouble in terms of a loss of quality, and even the strictest interpretation of banding propriety wouldn’t be violated in that case. As far as identity and genetics go, if one is expecting a “pure bred” American singer, one would be disappointed in this scenario.
Snider, J. A. “American Singer: Mystery Canary.” July 11, 2004. http://www.upatsix.com/asc/articles.htm (October 19, 2004).
Tom, Gary. “Breeding Your Own Strain.” July, 1997. http://www.geocities.com/pacificamericansingers/articles/index.htm (October 19, 2004).
Walker, G.B.R. Colored, Type, and Song Canaries: A Complete Guide. Monterey, California: Seacoast, 1993.
A Proposed Amendment to the Constitution, Bylaws, and Standards of the American Singers Club, Inc.
AMERICAN SINGERS DEVELOPED OR IMPROVED OUTSIDE OF THE PLAN
When the American singer was originally developed in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the only recognized song styles available in the United States were roller and chopper. The Plan of development at that time was a systematic blending of roller (by using the Harzer or German roller song canary) and chopper (by using the Border fancy type canary). Since that time, other song styles have become widely available in the United States, song styles which could aid American singer breeders in their quest for “an outstanding free harmonious song, pleasing to the ear, neither too loud nor too harsh, with plenty of VARIETY” (Definition of the American Singer Canary). Some breeders have been attempting to add to the song of the American singer from these more recently available song styles, either by means of tutoring (with live birds or electronically) or more directly by developing or improving their singers using genetic material from other breeds. For these reasons the song of the American singer has been evolving quite considerably from what was achieved in the past. However, the addition of genetic material from these other breeds has been in violation of other sections of this standard. In order to clarify this situation, the following norms are in effect:
A.S.D.I.O.P.1. The desire for “an outstanding free harmonious song, pleasing to the ear, neither too loud nor too harsh, with plenty of VARIETY” should be the overarching rule of selection when deciding what genetic material to base the breeding of American singer canaries on.
A.S.D.I.O.P.2. This means that the judicious use of genetic material from other available song styles or song breeds is permissible for the development or the improvement of American singer song, all other statements or provisions of the Constitution, Bylaws, and Standards of the American Singers Club, Inc. notwithstanding.
A.S.D.I.O.P.3. It must always be kept in mind that American singer song should never be a mere copy of some other song style. Tendencies which over emphasize any one song style are to be discouraged; that is, an American singer should not sing exclusively like a German roller, Border fancy, Belgian waterslager, Spanish timbrado, or any other recognized song style or song breed.
A.S.D.I.O.P.4. It should be acknowledged that making song the overarching rule of selection may have ramifications for such things as song stance, size, feather quality, the presence or absence of a crest, etc. The model in chapter 5 should continue to serve as a guideline rather than as a set of absolutes when it comes to these issues. For example, allowances are to be made for the presence of a neat crest and a modest increase or decrease in size from the 5 ¾ inches stated. Here also, a principle stated in the Definition of the American Singer Canary should be emphasized: namely, the goal when it comes to conformation is to achieve a beautiful shape “that will please the average home lover of canaries”.
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