One of my favorite things about summer is the free outdoor concerts. I’m not talking about local bands that occasionally perform from the park gazebo even though they can be a pleasant accompaniment to my evening dog walk.
No, nothing says summer like the insect-amphibian jam sessions that take place almost every evening.
I’ve moved quite a lot in my life and have been delighted to learn that each place I’ve lived long enough to grow accustomed to. Six U.S. states and a Scandinavian country have a timbre and cadence all their own, distinctive to that specific habitat in a certain continent on a singular planet in an expanding universe.
It’s the soundtrack of home, wherever home may be at that particular time in one’s life.
The musicians startwarming up as the light begins to fade. They’ve been playing the same basic tune since I was a child so I immediately recognize the overture. By 7:00-7:30pm the instruments are tuned and ready to swing.
Male Field crickets (Gryllus spp.) establish the beat with their forewings, kind of like a finger-snap that varies from cool to hot depending on the atmosphere.
Common true katydids (Pterophylla camellifolia) shift the accent…
… and the common meadow katydids (Orchelimum vulgare, not as common as the name implies) chime in with a bit of lawn-sprinkler syncopation.
[you might need to boost the volume a bit on this one]
Before long, the dog-day cicadas (Tibicen canicularis) are stealing the show.
As the evening progresses, though, the cicadas and other insects cede the stage to the second act—the frogs and toads… possibly because these headliners have been known to devour the opening act!
The band is made up primarily of horns and percussion. This isn’t jazz—there’s not much in the way of improvisation and the musicians don’t really take turns letting one another shine during a solo.
It can be difficult to identify the featured players, in part because the cast keeps changing; there are fair-weather performers, some have stormy temperament, and others don’t like to travel far from their favorite watering hole.
Still, there are some easily recognized voices.
Northern cricket frogs (Acris crepitant) step in to set the pace abandoned by their namesake insect. I’ve seen their call described as pebbles bouncing against oneanother but to me it’s a metal cabana – chain wrapped around a wood cylinder and shaken, not stirred.
The American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) is a minimalist; not much complexity but the sustain on that single trilling note is impressive.
The green frog (Lithobates clamitans), on the other hand, is a true traditionalist – no electric bass for this fellow, or even an upright acoustic. Listen carefully and you’ll hear his homage to a single string and washtub.
Tiny boreal chorus frogs (Pseudacris maculata) play plastic comb call-and-response…
… and the gray treefrogs (Hyla versicolor) are in charge of the upper register. These little guys can blow, plus how about that vibrato!
When the gang’s all here and lettin’ it rip the result is more cacophony than symphony—not everyone’s ideal night music but a lullaby to my ears.
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