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Meet the Instruments of the Orchestra!
by Genevieve Helsby with Evelyn Glennie

176 pp
large format hardback
ISBN: 978-1-84379-112-6
Naxos Books

This expressively colourful large format book is ideal for the curious - even slightly curious - youngster between the ages of say eight and fifteen. It generously straddles the gap between pre-teen and teen. Vivid, unstuffy, practical, fun, accurate and reflective, it also embraces multimedia. A CD-ROM comes with it – inserted into the inside hard cover of the book. This introduces you to the sound of some fifty instruments and families of instruments. It does this by examining each instrument’s range, and via a host of brief MP3 samples from classical scores.

The reach of this book and CD-ROM is long. There are, for example, references to and descriptions of the heckelphone and the ophicleide as well as the maracas, the tam-tam and the crotales. Neither are those eccentrics of the twentieth century, the ondes martenot (the audio illustration is from Messiaen's Turangalila) and the theremin neglected. Maurice Martenot invented the Ondes (waves) in 1928 while Lev Theremin produced the theremin in 1920. Neither is Dr Moog and his synthesiser ignored. The voice is considered in great detail. The harpsichord - chummily and aptly referred to as plucky jacks in a box - is treated also. There are mentions for Poulenc and De Falla as twentieth century composers who wrote for concertante works for the instrument.

Evelyn Glennie is one of the world's greatest ambassadors for fine music of all types and an irresistible role model. She provides the introduction as well as explaining her own journey to and through music. Her friendly cartoon sprite waves the reader through the 176 pages of the book reassuring, explaining and encouraging. The main text is by Genevieve Helsby who writes accessibly with disarming humour and authority.

The book is sumptuously illustrated and while some pages are a blizzard of insets and detail, the effect overall is enthralling. The text is lively and quotes and illustrations jostle with gossipy asides and jokes. Words are defined in lucid and accessible terms. Words such as orchestra and conductor are explained. It's a pity that the Boult-Handley layout - splitting violins I and II left and right - is not given as an alternative orchestral schematic. Even so the conventional layout will instantly enable anyone to locate what instrument is which at a concert … or more likely on-screen. There 's also a dictionary of musical terms alongside mini-features on flutter-tonguing and even Musique concrète. The whole is topped off by a decent index.

The book is certainly open-minded. It finds time to refer to other types of orchestra including gagaku, panpipe and gamelan - the latter beloved of Colin McPhee and Benjamin Britten. The Ondes page has a panel that reminds us that the instrument was used in the signature theme of the original 1960s Star Trek TV series. There are plenty of did-you-know? inset boxes ranging from the use of horse-hair for bows. Ms Helsby offers thoughtful reassurance that horses are not killed for their hair but that the hair is taken after they have died. The Hollywood actor Richard Gere is mentioned as having distinguished himself as a trumpeter at high school. Confounding the limitations of the book title, non-orchestral instruments such as the guitar (electric and acoustic) are included as is the mandolin. Bright little explanations pop up here and there such as comparing the flute method with blowing across the top of an empty bottle.

The concept is a clever one. The impatient browser can skip through the pictures, or read all the explanatory panels, or use just the CDROM or read from cover to cover. Each return to this book will yield new discoveries and has the potential for encouraging further exploration..

This is a reliable and inspired, as well as critically engaging, introduction to the world of orchestral instruments. Every pages buzzes with detail and discovery. Triumphant.

Rob Barnett


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