A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this app.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Orchestra is a multimedia tool for exploring classical music, the orchestra, and orchestral instruments. The app features video, interviews, and live performances from conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Because of its variety of sophisticated features, it's best suited for older kids already interested in classical music but will also appeal to those with less familiarity. A "Shop" button allows users to purchase the music, scores, or other apps.
What's it about?
THE ORCHESTRA lets users explore each instrument and multimedia presentations of eight classical music selections. For each piece, users listen to a five-minute live performance and view video of the conductor and players. Meanwhile, a "BeatMap" shows which instruments are playing at which time: It's an animated seating chart of the orchestra, and the colored dots representing each player pulse as that instrument sounds. Below, the score scrolls by, and users can change the size of the notes (from big to small) and toggle the score's size (between the full score and a few curated voices) and format (between normal musical notation and colored lines that correspond with the BeatMap). Users can tap any of these features (the videos, score, or BeatMap) to enter a full-screen view. From the home screen, users also can explore the instruments one by one, hearing interviews with the players that cover basic facts -- such as how to buzz your lips to play a brass instrument -- and more profound artistic insights. You can read extensive interviews with the conductor and commentary text for each piece by Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed, as well as a lengthy "About the Orchestra" text, also by Swed, that discusses the history of classical music in general and the Philharmonia Orchestra in particular.
Is it any good?
The Orchestra is a stellar tool for learning about classical music and what it's like to be a classical musician. The features for viewing the performance are stunningly good. Users will be thrilled to toggle among the various ways to view the music as its played. The videos are especially remarkable: Few films of classical music performances take you inside the orchestra like this, and it's amazing to see the conductor's face and the players as they prepare, play, and rest. It's also great that there's such a wide range of musical styles represented and that the pieces are both familiar (such as Beethoven's Fifth Symphony) and less well-known (such as Lutoslawski's 1954 Concerto for Orchestra). It's a great gateway for kids and adults to explore familiar music in a new way and to discover new, equally remarkable pieces. The pages for each instrument and section of the orchestra are great too, and users can zoom and rotate high-resolution images of the instruments to explore them in detail.
The only thing that would make this app better would be even more features for personalization; for example, it would be great if kids could save their favorite instruments, highlight portions of the score, or even isolate and listen to the instruments in the piece one by one. Also, the sample sounds of some of the instruments are digitized instead of authentic. Considering all the available features, however, these are small details.
Talk to your kids about ...
Which instruments have you heard before? How are some instruments different, and how are they alike? Talk about their sounds, how they're played, their ranges, and their roles in the orchestra.
Listen to the commentaries and see what the conductor and musicians say about each piece. How do the pieces differ, and how are they alike?
These videos offer an inside look at an orchestra in action. What do the musicians do before, during, and after they play? What's it like to watch the conductor from a player's-eye view?
Talk about classical music careers and how these players all started as beginners. Talk about the practice it takes to become a professional.
Themes & Topics
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For kids who love classical music, playing instruments, and music history
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.