Now we can all know the score

26th April 2013 at 01:00
An orchestra app shows what it's like to play second fiddle - or first. Anthony Anderson reports

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

Calling it an app seems 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 orchestra's development, history and how it works, supported by videos about the instruments presented by the players. You can listen to their sound, view showcases from orchestral pieces and examine the instruments. You can even play sample notes on a virtual keyboard.

The true innovation of the app is in the eight pieces it focuses on, including works by Haydn, Berlioz, Stravinsky and the contemporary music of Esa-Pekka Salonen, the project's musical director. As well as listening to the music, you can watch stunningly crisp video footage of the orchestral sections. The score can be 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 a family of instruments alone, helping students to understand 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.

The Orchestra app is available from iTunes.

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