The School of Music by Meurig Bowen, Rachel Bowen and Daniel Frost

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The School of Music by Meurig Bowen, Rachel Bowen and Daniel Frost

Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A good, visual fist at introducing the young student to the world of music and musicians, but it's a bit of a jazzy trio at times when I wanted the classical band.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 96 Date: April 2017
Publisher: Wide Eyed Editions
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781847808608

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I have a love/hate relationship with music. I love it in that I own several large bookshelves full of CDs, and have seen and met quite a few noted performers, from Radiohead to Philip Glass, but I hate it in that as regards making it I can only hit things (and that only with my hands, never with my feet at the same time). Only in the last few years have people been at all appreciative of my singing, for want of a better word, and one of those suggested closing my eyes to sound better (I think she also may have plugged her ears when I wasn't looking). That from a kid who was lumbered with something big and brass to lumber about on the school bus with, dammit. But hey, what's the use of my own example being so off-putting, when there is a world of pleasure, mental and physical exercise and fun to be had from being active in music? This book, dressed as the lesson programme of a full-on, proper musical college, is only designed to encourage and inform. But does it?

The school year is in three terms, as usual, but it has to be said this book is in four parts. After the school curriculum and ethos are outlined, we meet all the staff, which wasn't what I was interested in, to be honest. This is done to differentiate the different qualities and careers of musicians of different stripes, from the classical composer to the girl with wayward hair who just bashes things, and it's done so that every lesson that follows can come from a different first person voice. But that doesn't work – you always have to deflect attention to the images to find out who is lecturing at any one point, and it's a waste of effort. A little cartoon head at the start of every page would help indicate which of these needless characters is speaking.

So, to the lessons themselves. The first term is introducing us to different styles, and opening our ears, so we look at the different constructions of bands (string quartet, etc), and what we get when we add staging to music (ballet or opera). We also find ourselves in a global survey of different instrument types, and if you know your dilruba from your crotales you're a better man than I, Bang a Din. The different lessons, always made up of just one or two pages of this book, often come with a selection of sounds on the book's dedicated web page, although five days before publication this was a pre-order shop window, and not something I could review.

The second section is where I slip up, as I did all those years ago belligerently kicking my whatever-it-was (tuba, I think – NOT my choice) up the road home. It's the practical one, where you learn of chords, staves, clefs and all that whatnot, but I still didn't feel I had a grasp of all I should have learned. Again, the online guides may have helped, but by now the signs to turn webwards (that had always been annoyingly positioned on the page, anyway) have actually disappeared. So when we're supposed to compose just a few bars, for the first time, I was completely lost. On the whole the writing style is perfect for the over-eights, but I got lost a couple of times in what should have been basic technicalities.

The third section looks at the practicality of being musical – how to keep at it, how to practice well, avoid pre-show nerves, build a playlist from your own library or compose more competently. This brought the characters back – they'd always been present, as the lively and broad strokes of the illustrations had always included them, but again they were not so welcome to me. I did like the breadth of further exercises and projects suggested by virtual post-it notes on the pages, from building a shoe-box guitar with elastic bands to revising the Italian tempo directions. They often suggest you google a certain piece yourself, and consider it according to their instruction, and clearly an online interactivity is the right way to go with a book about sound and music, in this post-CD age. But I had expected to be helped by this book, and I don't think I was. Yes, it has it all in, from wangga music to ambient, via even Devo on the illustrations (and, of course, that G string joke), but I think I got a passing frisson of encouragement, and no more. For the right audience it may well strike a note (pun intended), but on this night I wasn't a member of that, unfortunately.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Maximus Musicus Visits the Orchestra by Hallfridur Olafsdottir and Porarinn Mar Baldursson drops the practical, but can also guide the patient youngster round a concert hall.

Buy The School of Music by Meurig Bowen, Rachel Bowen and Daniel Frost at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The School of Music by Meurig Bowen, Rachel Bowen and Daniel Frost at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The School of Music by Meurig Bowen, Rachel Bowen and Daniel Frost at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The School of Music by Meurig Bowen, Rachel Bowen and Daniel Frost at Amazon.com.


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