Bird Calling contestants spread their wings on stage


A boom, a skraak, the tango, breakdancing, an a cappella performance, and vaudeville. A lineup for a variety show? Certainly. However, the collection of acts were assembled at the 53rd annual Piedmont Bird Calling Show on Friday, March 16.

While acts were still judged and a winner was announced, this year the show began to pivot from a contest, as it was in years past, to a more show-like atmosphere, said producer of the show Kathryn Levenson.

“We are calling it the Bird Calling Show rather than contest, because back in the day when it used to be on [The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson] and [The Late Show with David Letterman] it apparently was very cutthroat, sort of, emotions ran high,” Levenson said. “People were incredibly motivated because they wanted to be on T.V.”

Master of Ceremony, senior William Reicher said that he and fellow Master of Ceremony, senior Jeremy Wong wanted to make the show a more bombastic and theatrical experience.

“We choreographed a dance for it and everything, and it’s almost based on 1930s, 1940s vaudeville,” Reicher said. “We wanted to add a lot of energy and humor to the show.”

Participants in the show felt a sense of camaraderie as opposed to competition, said winner of the show, senior Anders Bjork.

“I was helping other groups with their acts beforehand, which I think definitely enhanced the show, and I was trying to make sure that everyone came together,” Bjork said. “I think that was because we had less groups and we really had to work together to put on a good show.”

In addition to the shift from competition to show, a shift was made in terms of the technology used during the event. This year prior to each act going on stage, a video clip that featured both the call and movements of the bird was displayed for the audience to see, Levenson said.

“[Audience members] have no idea what [the birds] look like other than what the student is portraying in their costume,” Levenson said. “To me, that adds a little more education to it.”

Bjork said that the video of his bird, the Kakapo, that played prior to his act helped the audience visualize it as he was on stage.

“I was able to come on the stage right after [the video] and wear my costume and pretend to be the bird and move around in the same way,” Bjork said. “I think that really added to getting people into the mentality of watching a bird on stage.”

The show also took place unusually early this year, whereas in previous years it took place in late April or early May. The biggest challenge presented from this change was getting enough students to sign-up for the show with conflicts such as sports, spring plays, and a cappella performances, Levenson said.

“All of those draw from a very similar pool of kids,” Levenson said “It is one of those things that they say in companies or volunteer groups, ‘10 percent of the people do 90 percent of the work.’”

The show also likely saw lower student participation due to the winning prize of an appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” no longer available, Bjork said.

“I never really wanted to go on T.V. so it wasn’t really an issue that they weren’t doing any show this year, but I think that might have been the reason [the show] did not get quite as many groups,” Bjork said.

For all the changes that were made this year, the tradition and atmosphere surrounding the show remain the same, Reicher said.

“More than anything, I feel proud to be continuing such an interesting and such a traditional Piedmont symbol because this has been around since 1961,” Reicher said. “This is older than the super bowl, John F. Kennedy was still alive when they first did the show.”