February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Ken Burns & Vivaldi on the iPad | Best of Apps & Enhanced Books

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Ken Burns. (Ken Burns Media LLC/Big Spaceship/Red Glass). 2014. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Version 1.0.13. Free lite version, $9.99 in-app full version.

Gr 8 Up –Ken Burns has been busy. The award-winning filmmaker’s seven-part television series, The Roosevelts, recently premiered on PBS, and he just released an app. The app is both a visual time line of American history and a thematic compilation of clips from his documentaries, which have been praised for their wide-angle treatments incorporating interviews and archival photos and videos.

The time line is a string of discs featuring images from the documentaries, covering aspects of our nation’s history from 1619 to the present. Each disc is a link to a short clip from one of Burns’s feature-length films or series. Viewers can travel the time line through the centuries, hop from clip to clip pursuing their interests, or access all of the excerpts under a film title (selections from 25 films are available).

The excerpts are also curated. Under the themes of “Art,” “Hard Times,” “Innovation,” “Politics,” “Race,” “War,” and “Leadership” are three to 20 scenes chosen by Burns. In his introduction to the app, the filmmaker states that these groupings, or “playlists,” allow viewers to see history through a different lens.

The playlists offer users opportunities to make numerous connections: those between the perception of the political situation during the prohibition era and our reading of the current political climate, the thread of race through the American narrative, and how war brings out the worst in humankind and sometimes the best. The free “lite” version of the app includes the entire “Innovation” playlist—14 scenes from 10 different films. Topics related to art, music, and sports (particularly baseball) also make regular appearances.

Functionality is smooth, the clips load quickly, and the sound quality is excellent. A “Watch the Film” tab (on static screens) brings users to local PBS stations to view the full-length films, and/or to iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon, where they can purchase the episodes and/or series. A thoughtful look at the panorama of American history and one man’s oeuvre.–Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal


Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Charlotte Gardner. (Touch Press/Deutsche Grammophon/Schott). 2014. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Version 1.0.4 . $10.99.

Gr 9 Up – With the help of Deutsche Grammophon, Touch Press has engineered an app that mirrors the groundbreaking work it accomplished in Beethoven’s 9th and the Liszt Sonata in B Minor.

On opening the production, viewers have the option of beginning with a brief history of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s life and composition, or one of the two complete performances of the Four Seasons: the celebrated interpretation by Trevor Pinnock or Max Richter’s Recomposition, an “unmistakable homage to the original.”

The history covers the composer, violinist, and cleric’s life from his birth in Venice in 1678 to his death in 1741, his career highlights, and the “genius and modernity” of his work. Each of the violin concertos in the Four Seasons (“Spring,” “Summer,” “Autumn,” and “Winter”) is examined in detail through bar-by-bar descriptions of the music and information on the four sonnets originally printed with them. Interspersed is video commentary by cultural critics and musicians who discuss the works in general terms and consider the technical aspects of the compositions.

Sound quality is excellent throughout. A BeatMap consisting of dots representing the various instruments of the orchestra is visible as users listen to either of the performances. (Pulsating dots indicate when their corresponding instruments are playing.) Bars stretching across the bottom of the screen keep time and note the measure, while a tap to a treble clef symbol will bring up sheet music for individual instruments.

The Pinnock performance adds a third bar to the screen, presenting a choice between “sonnet” and music “commentary.” For example, just moments into “Winter,” the “sonnet” view reads, “In the strong blasts of a terrible wind….” Under commentary, this note appears: “A virtuosic ‘harsh blast’ of wind from the violin primo…. ” The Richter performance provides three simultaneous views of the musicians and a Beatmap, any of which can be enlarged to full screen. (Holding a finger on the map will solo each section.)

Both fans of classical music and those interested in learning more about Vivaldi and/or music will find much to enjoy in this splendid app. Schools with music programs, libraries with music collections, and any collection experimenting with circulating iPads should consider it an essential purchase.–Mark Richardson, Cedar Mill Community Library, Portland, OR

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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.