February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

On Stage with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra | Touch and Go

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Multimedia informational resources have been a boon for learners across disciplines. Witness some of the apps we’ve reviewed: Pyramids 3D, Bobo Explores Light, Al Gore’s Our Choice and Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy.

Now there’s The Orchestra, which brings the sights and sounds of London’s Philharmonia to readers and listeners everywhere. Don’t miss it.


For those who didn’t grow up immersed in orchestral practices, trying to understand the art and its ensembles may seem daunting. Even a seasoned musician may open The Orchestra (Touch Press, $13.99; Gr 3 Up) and wonder, where do I begin, for the options are vast. Starting with the commentary of the conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, will give listeners a flavor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, and open their minds to the complexity of Salonen’s task. His level of thought and his narrative are deep; as the engineer and artistic guide for the orchestra, he speaks at a level suitable for high school or college students. But there is plenty in this app that will have a place with students as young as the elementary grades; for example, the individual showcases for each orchestral instrument.

Simon Oliver and his double bass (‘The Orchestra’) Touch Press

Each showcase consists of a photo of the instrument that can be enlarged and rotated 360 degrees; a video narration and demonstration of the sounds that instrument produces; a written entry; a “Did You Know?” fact; a keyboard (showing the range of the instrument); and an orchestral excerpt performed by the artist during an ensemble performance. Percussion instruments have touch pads to mimic the sounds made by drums. Many of the musicians’ video narratives are endearing (particularly the brass section, notably Katy Wooley’s French Horn video and Alistair Mackie’s on the trumpet), which make the instruments instantly accessible. This section would be also useful for young people trying to determine which instrument to study, for each video explains the working of the instrument and depicts a musician playing it. The snare drum excerpts are wonderful and worth a special mention.

Continuing through the app, users have a choice of orchestral pieces that highlight specific instruments. Claude Debussy’s  Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird are two examples, but the real joy in listening to these pieces comes from the commentaries provided by the musicians and the conductor. There are also opportunities to to listen (with or without full score) to thoughtful conversations amongst orchestral members concerning the expression, technique, and even conducting style while watching the orchestra perform. It is fascinating. When principal flutist Samuel Coles confesses, “I spend whole days practicing flute so that I can forget technique…(in concert)” viewers will gain a new appreciation for the work that goes into creating art.

The text is no less engaging than the audio-visuals. Penned by Mark Swed (chief classic music critic of the L.A. Times), it covers the history of the orchestra, makes suggestions on how to listen to orchestral music and interpret a score. Of special note in the introduction is the mention of El Sistema, the Venezuelan music education program, which has created a moral and social system based on its 125 youth orchestras.

The power of orchestral music is compelling; this app provides unique and rich experiences that can be appreciated by both beginners and professionals.—Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, Newburgh, NY

Eds. note: You’ll hear from the conductor and the musicians on the trailer for this app.

For more app reviews, visit our Touch and Go webpage.

Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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