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Trumpeter Swans & Louis Armstrong

By Chloe Grant, Read to Them Staff

Hey there, readers! We’re halfway through our reading of The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, and we thought a good way to celebrate would be with a blog post surrounding two components of major importance within this text: swans and trumpets! Our main character, Louis, who we spotlighted on Monday, is a swan who communicates via trumpet. We’ll watch Louis’s talent for trumpeting become an important facet of his identity, and you may even be familiar with another famous trumpeter named Louis. We’ll talk about him a little later. For now, let’s dive into some information on trumpeter swans.

Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America, and they happen to be the heaviest flying birds on the continent. Like Louis’s parents, these swans partner up for life, and most of the time they find their bonding partner around 4 or 5 years old. As we saw with Louis, trumpeter swans are born from eggs. An interesting fact about trumpeter swans preparing for cygnets, rather than sitting on their eggs like most species, they use their webbed feet to protect their eggs. With over 34,000 trumpeter swans living in North America, this species of swan is doing well in population size. What a relief, because they were at risk of extinction back in the early 1900s! Humans' habits did harm to these creatures and their habitats which declined their populations. But with the help of some folks committed to conservation efforts, the trumpeter swans are thriving once again! Now they choose to live away from humans, spending most of their time in freshwater lakes and ponds, and we can’t blame them. If you ever see a fully grown trumpeter swan, they can be identified by their white feathers, black beaks and webbed feet, and the sound of their squawk. Given their name it’s no surprise that they’re known for their call sounds, which is said to sound like a trumpet or french horn. This must be why the Cobb goes after the brass instrument for his son!

Speaking of trumpets, Louis’s talents for trumpeting may be untraditional for his species, but he is not the first Louis to make waves on the trumpet. Louis Armstrong, who it’s been hinted that E.B. White named his main character after, was an iconic trumpet player who made quite the impact on jazz music. He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1901 and grew into a man known across artistic mediums. In addition to being the foremost trumpet player of his time, he was no stranger to the screen, making an appearance in several movies. He also was quite the writer. However, his gift for music is what he’s best known for. His career lasted over 50 years and he played within the tradition of big bands, which included a large number of jazz artists, as well as in a smaller six person group, The All Stars. In his prime he averaged 300 concerts a year, and over the course of his life he composed many songs. His work has often been regarded as a standard for the craft. His talent and musical pairings with other musicians of his time have created a rich, lasting legacy that permeates the culture of American jazz to this day. You’ve likely heard his voice and the sound of his trumpet before, but we encourage you to pause for a moment and appreciate his work. Perhaps you’ll find the time to explore some of the Virtual Exhibits offered by The Louis Armstrong House.

Our friend Louis the swan has some pretty big shoes to fill. We’ll continue our reading to see how his trumpeting career plays out, but in the meantime we hope you enjoyed learning more about the history behind our character, both as a species and a namesake. Check back on Friday for our reconnect to wrap up week two of The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. Happy reading!


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