Posted on September 19 2019



by Joanne Camas


You could say that cellist David Teie is an equal-opportunity musician. He blends his love of playing music with a passionate curiosity about the way combinations of notes can sway our emotions―and even those of monkeys, cats, and dogs. Why should humans have a monopoly, after all?

Teie believes every species responds instinctively to sounds based on its brain development and its vocalizations. If you think of music as a recipe, he explains, “instead of using ingredients that are all designed by and for humans, species-specific music is created with ingredients taken from the voices and development of another species.”

Teie first worked with recordings of the voices of cotton-top tamarin monkeys at the University of Wisconsin. By playing the sounds on his cello and then altering the pitch, he discovered music that relaxed the monkeys. Human music gets no reaction from the monkeys, but these voice-based compositions hit a primal nerve.

Next Teie turned to cats. Ironically, he stays well clear of felines in his own life. “I am allergic to cats and have never owned one!” Teie says. “Just as with the music for monkeys, I composed the music based on the theory of how music affects humans, and I sent it off for testing without doing any experimentation on my own.”

The cat music Music For Cats features the comforting sounds of suckling milk and feline-friendly purring. Kitten meows and bird chips are also part of the music.

Teie is a well-established professional classical musician. He has given 18 solo performances as a cellist with the National Symphony Orchestra and was acting principal cellist of the San Francisco Symphony. And in another case of musical extremes, he played lead cello on Metallica’s album S&M, too! More recently he was the conductor and music director of Washington, D.C.’s Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, and he is now on the faculty at University of Maryland’s School of Music.

With that weighty classical music background, how did people react to his interest in species-appropriate music? “I can tell you that my nuclear physicist mother-in-law thought I was crazy,” he says. “It certainly helped when the news of the publication of the music for monkeys was carried in four Czech newspapers (she’s Czech).” As for other people, “I guess ‘bemused might be the best description,” he reports.

His next animal music venture was on a larger scale and probably destined to take “bemused” up a notch or two. Teie’s wife and daughter are avid horse riders. He’d heard many tales about skittish horses, so he decided to compose music that would help to calm horses in stressful situations, he told Ted.Ideas.com . 

“The music for horses was a technical failure,” he now admits. “The headphones that I labored on for months did not stay on, and I’m pretty sure the music was too far from the ear canal to be heard clearly. I have put music for horses on the shelf and will return to it later.”

He is, however, about to share new compositions for canines. “I am finally ready to launch music for dogs,” he says. “I have a prototype song that seems to be effective with the dogs who have heard it.”

Teie says the dog music was a real challenge. “Because they are already so intimately connected with humans and human emotions, dogs are very difficult to compose for.” Dogs also come in all sizes and a range of voices—he had to figure out whether different breeds appreciated different musical elements. One constant? He believes that if you relax when you play a certain type of music, your dog will too.

Teie has received positive feedback from pet owners. “My son’s boss played the music for his cat in a cab ride and it calmed him down—the cat, I mean. I guess the boss was calmed too, by extension.”

He also just received a letter that made him smile:

“I was one of the cat lovers who supported your Kickstarter project, and I’ve bought copies of the CD since then to give to friends with cats. I’m listening right now to “Katey Moss Catwalk.” Every time I play it, I tell myself I have to let you know how much I enjoy that particular piece. My cat likes all of them, but I find “Katey Moss so sweet and loving that it brings tears to my eyes.” 


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