Book #19 The Story of the Orchestra

I almost didn’t include this book on my list because it’s a children’s book. Somehow I felt like that was cheating. However, since it took us 3 weeks to work our way through its 93 pages and 42 tracks on the accompanying CD, I feel pretty certain that it merits a spot on the 52 in 52 list. It was a lot of work, but we learned a tremendous amount from it.

The book was written by famous music and travel writer Robert Levine. It was fabulously educational for both my daughter and myself on the various components of the orchestra. In the first section, Levine gives an overview of the various eras in history that helped form classical music: Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern. He discusses composers in each period who most helped to shape the music of the time. Some of their stories are fascinating.For instance, did you know that Bach, one of the greatest Baroque composers of all times, never received fame for his music until about 100 years after he died? He basically lived hand to mouth as a church musician and composer, desperately working to feed his 21(!) children. Did you know that Aaron Copland, who won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1945, never gave up his “day job”? Although he is one of the finest American composers ever to write music and his work is widely recognized, he worked throughout his life as an insurance executive and wrote music at night and on weekends.

In the second half of the book, he discusses each section of orchestra and the role that section plays. Each instrument in the orchestra is discussed, giving its history and a description of its sound. Did you know that if you unwrapped a tuba’s metal tubing that it would be over 18 feet long?

The accompanying CD is a vital part of the book. After all, it’s one thing to talk about how an instrument sounds, but quite a different thing entirely to hear it played in the context of an orchestra. We learned how to listen for each particular instrument in a piece of music. We learned to identify during which musical era composers wrote their music by the characteristics of the music. We both feel so much more informed about classical music after having read the book. We now have a better understanding and appreciation for it!

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