Old friends and new

25th February 2000 at 00:00
Music in Action fromBig Books City of Wakefield Education Department pound;15 + pound;1.20 pamp;pAvailable from Lovely Music, 17 Westgate,Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, LS24 9JB. Tel: 01937 832946 Fax: 01937 835696 The need to prevent literacy and numeracy from swallowing up arts education has resulted in imaginative and useful compilations such as this. It is a set of suggested musical activities associated with seven of the most popular of the Big Books published by Walker, including 24 photocopiable worksheets. Handa's Surprise provides the opportunity to create both sounds for the different fruits and a basket of instruments to play them with, and to listen to songs and drumming from Handa's continent of Africa. Owl Babies suggests night sounds composed both by children and by older exemplars including Prokofiev and Vaughan Williams. Hard-pressed teachers will find in this book a sympathetic and resourceful friend.

SING A SONG OF GERMANY. Sing a Song of France. By Mary Thompson. Chester Music pound;6.95 each

Generous compilations of the treasures of some of our nearest neighbours are more than welcome. The piano arrangements are simply set under a clearly printed vocal line, and should be within reach of most pianists of grade 1 sandard. The French collection of 25 songs ranges from the artlessness of Sur le Pont d'Avignon to the roistering Il etait une Bergere, taking in the beautiful Nous n'irons plus aux bois and Dodo l'enfant, so beloved of Debussy.

The 27 pieces from Germany cover simple lullabies and action songs (Guten Abend, gut' Nacht), as well as echoes of the open road (Das Wandern ist des Muellers Lust). But even here the notes of exile and regret remind us of how Mahler's imagination was mesmerised by the subtle power of these simplicities.

I CAN READ MUSIC. I Can Write Music. By Mary Thompson. Chester Music pound;3.95

These two books are clearly organised and well-intentioned but seem to miss their target. They take young readers from counting simple pulses to the terminology of semitones, ledger lines and harmonic and melodic scales. However, on that challenging journey they will meet a lot of facts and many names but very little real music. This tendency to abstraction might have been mitigated by a greater use of well-known tunes - Lavender's Blue is the only one to appear - or of examples from speech-rhythms. As it is, the subject is made to seem rather more forbidding and less rooted in common life than it should.

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