Music - Know the score

29th March 2013 at 00:00
An orchestra app shows what it's like to play second fiddle - or first

I was nearly late to pick up my daughter. The reason was a highly addictive and beautifully presented musical app: The Orchestra.

Even calling it an app seems a little misleading. This is more of an experience, which builds on the Philharmonia Orchestra's highly successful interactive sound installations, RE-RITE and Universe of Sound, in a partnership with Touch Press.

The Orchestra features libraries of information about the development of the orchestra, its history and how it works, supported by videos about the orchestral instruments that are presented by the players themselves. You can listen to their sound, view showcases from orchestral pieces and examine the instruments, rotating them from all angles. You can even play sample notes on a virtual keyboard.

The true innovation of the app is in the eight pieces it focuses on. These cover a huge range, from Haydn and Berlioz to Stravinsky, Lutoslawski and the contemporary music of Esa-Pekka Salonen, the project's musical director. As well as the chance to listen to the music, you can watch stunningly crisp video footage of the orchestral sections. The score can be displayed and also viewed in an accessible piano-roll format.

There are numerous commentaries by conductors and musicians, available as audio with subtitles and well-balanced against the music itself. These offer a great insight into how conductors prepare for concert performances and how orchestral musicians view the music. Perhaps most innovative of all is the app's coloured plan view of the orchestra, in which dots pulsate and illuminate to indicate the scoring of the orchestra. Holding and dragging a finger across the screen gives you the chance to hear that family of instruments alone, enabling an understanding of their role in the orchestra as a whole.

I have used this rich resource with classes to arouse curiosity and fascination. If it is used in small groups with plenty of opportunity for interaction, students learn an immense amount. And they can continue to explore the orchestral environment at home, bringing what they have learned back into the classroom.

But perhaps the most appealing aspect of The Orchestra is that it is not a virtual app. It provides insight, authentic footage and video clips from a real conductor and orchestral musicians.

Anthony Anderson is head of music and performing arts, a coach and a mentor at Beauchamp College, Leicestershire. The Orchestra app is available from iTunes. Watch a video tour at and find out more about Universe of Sound at


Try JCTurner15's games and puzzles on the instruments of the orchestra, including several starter and plenary activities.


Inspire students to learn about the workings of the orchestra with the help of mangopiano's worksheet. bit.lyTheOrchestra.

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