The Young Person’s Guide…
Evelyn Grant and the Cork Pops Orchestra at City Hall, Cork
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 021 4316088 for details of November 2014 concert series.
If you go to our web-site – www.corkpops.ie – you can connect directly to some great examples of the music on the programme this year.
There are a number of fine web-sites that illustrate the working of the orchestra, and various musical topics. My favourite is still the San Francisco Symphony’s http://www.sfskids.org
This web-site has three particularly exciting areas. One illustrates the instruments of the orchestra, with opportunity to view the instruments close up and from different angles. Unfortunately, the sounds are not great – recorded on a synthesizer,- they give an idea of the sound, but are not very authentic. However, on other parts of the site there are wonderful recordings. These are found on the Radio section, where the pupil can select different pieces. The Music Lab section of the site has one of the best explanations of the basic elements of music that I have come across – particularly as it is interactive and the pupils can read the information and then understand it by experimenting. It covers ‘Basics’; ‘Rhythm’; ‘Pitch’; ‘Harmony’; ‘Symbols’ used in music notation; ‘Instrumentation’; and also offers an interactive ‘Performulator’ and a ‘Composerizer’. (You may need to point out that some words are spelt differently in the USA – using Z where we would use S. There are occasional words which are different in American musical terms, also, most notably “Measure” which we call “Bar”. The American note values also use different words – (a better system, I think,) – with a Semibreve (4 beats) called a Whole note; a Minim (2 beats) is a Half- note; a Crotchet (one beat) is a Quarter-note; and a Quaver (a half-beat) is an Eighth-note. Other informative explorations of the orchestra are on: http://www.philharmonia.co.uk/explore/instruments/
Carnegie Hall, New York have an entertaining introduction to the instruments of the orchestra (based on Britten’s Young Person’s Guide) on: http://listeningadventures.carnegiehall.org/ypgto/index.aspx
A version with visual images of the instruments to match sound clips of the Britten piece is to be found on: http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/music/kamien9e/part01/chapter02/youngpersonsguide/brittenguideinteractive.htm
The following is an example of the very accessible content on the sfskids.com site :
The String Family
The String Family makes up more than half of the orchestra. Although many of the string instruments look similar, they are very different in size and sound. As you can probably guess from the name, all of the instruments in this family have strings, which are made of gut, steel, or nylon. You play string instruments by drawing the horsehair bow across the strings, or by plucking or tapping the strings. All of the string instruments, except for the harp, have curvy hollow wooden bodies and long necks. The strings are stretched from pegs at the top of the neck, over the body, and down to the tailpiece.
The Woodwind Family
The Woodwind Family The Wood and the Wind are what make this family of instruments special. Long ago, all of the instruments in this family were made of wood, but now some are made of wood or metal or a combination of materials. The wind part refers to the air that is blown through the instruments to make them sound. (The wind is actually breath.) Woodwinds are basically long narrow tubes with holes. Many of the holes have little covers called keys. By blowing across or into the tube, air is set in motion throughout the length of the tube. Except for the flute, these instruments use a thin piece of wood called a ‘reed’, which vibrates when the player blows across it. The clarinet uses a single reed (just one piece of wood), while the oboe and bassoon use a type of reed made of two pieces joined together. The sound on the flute is made by blowing across the hole. You make different sounds by covering and uncovering the holes with your fingers, or by pressing the keys.
The Brass Family
Brass instruments really are made of brass. They can play the loudest of all the instruments in the orchestra. Brass instruments are basically very long tubes with flared ends called ‘bells’. The brass tubes have been curved and shaped to make them easier to hold. You play a brass instrument by putting your lips into a cup-shaped mouthpiece and buzzing. This buzzing makes the air vibrate down the long metal tubes and created sound. Many brass instruments have vales what look like buttons. When you press the valves, they open and close parts of the tubes. You change the sound by pressing different valves and buzzing harder or softer. On the trombone, you change note by sliding the tube in an out.
The Percussion Family
The percussion family includes lots of instruments, from small to large and from simple to complicated. To play a percussion instrument, you hit it, shake it, or scrape it. Sometimes you hit it against itself, and sometimes you use sticks or mallets. It may sound easy, but it requires great skill to hit an instrument with the right force, in the right place, and at the right time. Percussion instruments are used to keep the rhythm, create texture, make special sounds, and even play different notes. Some are tuned and can sound different notes, like the xylophone or timpani, and some are untuned with no definite pitch, like a bass drum or castanets.
Check out www.sfskids.com
Woodwind and Brass Instruments
One thing that brass and woodwind players have in common is ‘the embouchure.’ Taken from the French word – ‘bouche’ meaning mouth. The shape of the mouth and the use of the facial muscles form the ‘embouchure’ and this determines how the air column vibrates inside the tube. You will often see brass players emptying water out of their instruments – this is another thing they have in common. This is actually the condensation from their breath which has turned to water. Woodwind players must carefully dry out the condensation from the inside of the instrument after each time they play. Brass instruments use the same kind of mouthpiece and form a similar ‘embouchure’ or mouth-shape in order to blow. The woodwind instruments are more individual.
Flute – the player directs the air stream across the hole in the mouthpiece and so the air is hits off the edge and is deflected into the tube of the instrument. The word ‘embouchure’ is used both to describe the hole in the mouthpiece and the shape of the players lips when blowing. To see if you would find it easy or ‘natural’ to blow a flute, use a bottle as the flute-mouthpiece, hold it firmly against the lip and blow across the top. Flutes were originally made of wood, although nowadays are mostly made of metal – silver or gold. Different materials affect the timbre of the sound.
Oboe – To make the air-column vibrate inside the wooden tube of the oboe, the player makes an ‘embouchure’ as one would to blow through a blade of grass. The mouthpiece is made of two pieces of very finely scraped reed or cane that are tied together, forming a narrow slit at the top. Most oboists shape their own reeds to suit their own requirements – sometimes preferring heavier, thicker reeds for low notes or a stronger sound and lighter reeds for a more delicate timbre. Because only a small amount of air can be blown through the narrow opening of the reed, a lot of air-pressure builds up – just like blowing through the blade of grass.
Clarinet – The method of blowing the clarinet is similar to the oboe, but the clarinet has only one reed which is held in place by a round metal ring with two screws for tightening. So, whereas the oboist squeezes the air through two evenly shaped lips, for the clarinettist it is the lower lip that is of special importance. The Clarinet is a ‘single reed’ instrument, like the saxophone – developed by Adolphe Sax, from Belgium, in the 19th century, who adopted the clarinet mouthpiece for his new invention. His idea was to create a cross between a woodwind and a brass instrument, so that it would be heard loudly in marching. So, the reed and mouthpiece are like that of the clarinet, but the tube is made of brass. Like the brass instruments, it was also ideal for the jazz and dance music that developed in the 20th century.
Bassoon – Like the Oboe, the Bassoon is a double-reed instrument. It plays music in the bass clef (flute, oboe and clarinet read the treble clef) and is often compared to the tenor or baritone voice. The reed is attached to a metal ‘crook’. It is the largest instrument of the woodwind section and is usually made from maple wood.
Trumpet – In the 17th Century the trumpet had no valves (buttons that you press with your fingers) and could only play certain notes. The player had to find these notes by changing the pressure of his lips against the mouthpiece. This instrument was known as the ‘natural trumpet.’ Bach, Haydn ad Mozart all wrote for this type of instrument. The player causes the air column inside the instrument to vibrate with his lips, thus creating the sound. The ‘cup-shaped’ mouthpiece simply supports the lips, whether they are slack (for lower notes) or tight (for higher notes.) The trumpet was used for royal occasions and trumpeters, together with the timpanists, were held in higher esteem than other musicians. Around 1830, the modern trumpet, which has three valves, was introduced. By pressing one of the valves, the player is actually increasing the length of the tube, so that a new set of notes becomes possible to play. In the 19th century, the size of the trumpet section (and all the other brass sections) in the orchestra increased. Sometimes, in order to get a different type of sound, the player fits a mute into the bell of his trumpet. Composers other ask for trumpeters to use particular mutes – made of either metal, plastic etc. – to get different timbres. As jazz and dance music developed in the 20th century, the trumpet, alongside the saxophone and the trombone took on very important roles.
French Horn – Until valves were invented in the 19th century, the horn like the trumpet could play only those notes that were available from single length o brass tubing. A player could alter the total length of the tubing by changing ‘crooks’. These were extra bits of tubing, graded in size. As with the trumpet, the modern horn with three valves came into use in the early part of the 19th century. It is called the ‘French’ horn, probably because of its early use in France. The valves do the work of the old-fashioned crooks – adding on extra bits of tubing. So, by altering the pressure of his lips on the mouthpiece and by using the valves, the horn-player can play the complete range of notes. The earliest horns were used not to make music, but for hunting and produced a rough, loud sound. The horns were played with the bell in the air to get the loudest volume, whereas nowadays an orchestral player will hold the bell close to the chest and, often, will alter the sound by placing the right-hand inside the ‘bell’.
Trombone – Of the instruments in the brass and woodwind sections of the orchestra, the trombone is the one which has changed least over time. It is very closely related to the trumpet with a ‘cup-shaped’ mouthpiece similar to the trumpet and French-horn. The player uses his lips in the very same way to make the air column inside the instrument vibrate. But unlike those two instruments, the trombone does not have any valves or crooks. It has a slide instead. The trombone is about one and a half metres long. It is held in the left-hand; the right one pushes the slide, shortening or lengthening the air column inside the instrument. This can be done very evenly or gently, which is why the trombone, of all the brass instruments, can sound most like the human voice. The ’cello is the string section equivalent of the trombone in the brass section and the bassoon in the woodwind. There are usually three tenor trombones is the orchestra, with one larger bass trombone. Very high orchestral parts are sometimes played on the alto trombone.