LEWISTON — A recent concert by two Bates College violinists at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society was met with howling applause.

Maddy Ewell and Riley Gramley filed into a narrow corridor, led by operations manager Ken Schlichting, their violin cases, stands, and sheet music in hand, and set themselves up before a row of dogs poking their noses through their cages. Cutting through the barrage of barking was “6 Violin Duos” by the Austrian-French composer Ignaz Pleyel, followed by scattered whines and wide eyes. 

“We had a book of fun duets, nothing too crazy or virtuosic, just subtle background noise for the animals,” first-year student Gramley said. “(The experience) exceeded my expectations. Playing for the cats was the best, it was quiet and really calming, even for me. Just being around (them) really. Seeing a couple of those animals perk up when they heard the music was fun.”

Scientists have investigated the relationship between music and the effect it has on the brain in both humans and animals in various settings. A 2012 study by The Journal of Veterinary Behavior concluded that classical music helped dogs in kennels relax more than any other genre. Another study published in the Applied Animal Behavior Science journal found that while cats are largely indifferent to human music, playing sounds that mimic the frequencies and tempos similar to the ones cats use to communicate can produce a positive reaction from them.

Cats and dogs are not the only animals that can react positively to music. Cows are known to produce more milk when played relaxing music. In 2001, dairy cows in England that had popular songs such as R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” played produced 3% more milk than when no music was played. Several goldfish in Japan were also trained to distinguish between composers in 2013 at Keio University.

Ewell, the president of the Small Ensemble Club at Bates, was contacted by Beth Herman, a freelance writer and part-time employee at the Bates College Museum of Art. She proposed the idea through mutual acquaintance Chiharu Naruse, a faculty member and instructor in the Bates College music department, and Ewell spread the word to other members of the ensemble about the opportunity.


“Riley showed some interest and so he and I decided that it would be a great thing to try and see how it works starting this spring,” said Ewell, who explained that she and Gramley hoped to make their performance at the shelter part of a series.

The duo played in the dog and cat rooms, the latter in an open space where a member of the audience was allowed to roam free for a bit. The cats looked on from inside their cages, at ease as one is at a symphony, and their eyes followed the rising and falling of the violin bows.

“The entire concept was new to me but it struck me as something really cool and fascinating. Just the profound effect that music has on not just humans but animals as well,” said Elwell, a senior neuroscience major. “I spend a lot of time looking at that sort of stuff so there’s not only something from the music perspective but from the scientific perspective as well.”

“We’re very excited to have violinists here today, I think they did an amazing job,” Schlichting said. “I’m well aware that music can relax animals and kind of make them less stressed and anxious, and we saw that with cats and the dogs today. Granite, one of our dogs, was especially mesmerized by the music and I hope to have them back again.”

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