I really enjoyed this article, ostensibly about the amazing vocal technique of one Charles Kellogg who could “put out fire by singing”. Apparently he could also imitate birdsong perfectly. There’s an interesting video at the end of the article about that.
More interesting to me, however, is the anecdote about what Kellogg’s ear was attuned to, even in a busy urban environment.
Perhaps the most revealing anecdote tells of him walking down the street during a visit to New York, when Kellogg stopped short at the intersection of Broadway and West 34th Street. He turned to his companion and said: “Listen, I hear a cricket.” His friend responded: “Impossible—with all this racket you couldn’t hear a tiny sound like that.” And it was true: cars, trolleys, passersby, shouting newspaper vendors created such a hustle and bustle that no cricket could possibly be discerned in the hubbub.
But, true to his word, Kellogg scrutinized their busy surroundings, and a moment later crossed the street with his companion following along—and there on a window ledge pointed to a tiny cricket. “What astonishing hearing you have,” his friend marveled. But instead of responding, Kellogg reached into his pocket and pulled out a dime, which he dropped on the sidewalk. The moment the coin hit the pavement it made a small pinging noise, and everybody within 50 feet of the sound stopped and started looking for the coin. People listen for what’s most important for them, he later explained: for New Yorkers it’s the sound of money, for Charles Kellogg it was the chirping of a cricket.