Author and musician Ana Gerhard’s new book Listen to the Birds: An Introduction to Classical Music is an interesting work. What on the surface would seem to be aimed largely at younger listeners in fact is an impressive multi-purpose book for listeners of all ages. At its most basic level, it is a good tool for music teachers of students from 2nd – 4th grade. Though with the musical history included in each song segment’s introduction, it’s a book from which even older audiences could benefit. There is even a “Listening Guide”, history on the composers included, and even a timeline showing when each composer lived included at the book’s end that teachers will find especially useful when making lesson plans. This is a big part of what makes this book so interesting for readers of all ages. Gerhard also includes the scientific name of the bird featured in each song segment. The birds’ names might be difficult for some younger listeners to pronounce. The result being that it might serve as a solid introduction for older children and even some adults that might have an interest in ornithology, or the study of birds. The book’s general content does so much to make it a success, as one can tell by now. Its illustrations, drawn by artist Cecilia Varela, are one more positive to the overall presentation. They emulate certain other artists, but still maintain their own identity. They make the overall presentation of the book that much more impressive and worth the read.
At its most basic level, Listen to the Birds: An Introduction to Classical Music is quite the useful tool for teachers of students in grades 2 – 4. The musical history and the short segments are just enough to get younger listeners interested in classical music. In listening to the segments on the included CD, listeners will really be able to hear the birds which are introduced throughout the book. This is especially the case with the Cuckoo bird. And just as the book notes in the section on the Goldfinch, listeners really can hear the bird singing as the violinists play the high pitched slurs in the segment presented on the companion CD. Listeners will even be able to hear the birds singing in one of the songs, as noted in the book. These are just a couple of the examples, musically speaking, of what listeners can expect from this impressive new release.
Just as impressive as the partnership of the book and its companion CD is the book’s general content. As already noted, the intended audience for this book is children in grades 2 – 4. However, because of the music history contained within the book’s pages, and the inclusion of each bird’s scientific name, it is in fact just as fitting for older readers, too (this critic included). Among some of the more interesting facts that many older classical music fans might not have known is that composer Camille Saint-Seans hated his composition, The Carnival of the Animals so much that he specifically had placed into his will that the work was not to be published during his life. The only exception to that was his composition from that work entitled, ‘The Swan.’ Ironically, The Carnival of the Animals—much like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite—was the composer’s least favorite work, yet has gone on since to become a favorite of classical music lovers the world over. Just as interesting to note of this book is that included here is a mention that composer Ralph Vaughan Williams got the inspiration for The Lark Ascending from a work by poet George Meredith and that the famed Pictures at an Exhibition by composer Modest Mussorgsky was in fact composed in tribute to his artist and architect friend Viktor Alexandrovich Hartmann. As a matter of fact, the work was originally titled in direct tribute to Hartmann. It was originally titled, Hartmann Suite. Hartmann had a series of ten paintings that were put on exhibition. The fifteen pieces that make up the complete work were meant to present the emotion felt by those that viewed each of the paintings. This in itself is both peculiar and interesting as audiences more commonly see ballet dancers interpreting music. This time, a composer interpreted visual art to the written page.
The information provided within the pages of Listen to the Birds: An Introduction to Classical Music makes the book quite interesting for readers and listeners of all ages. The bonus “Listening Guide”, brief composer histories and timelines make it especially interesting for all readers. As with the general information provided regarding each segment provided on the companion CD, the composer histories offer just as much interesting reading material for all readers. Add in the beautiful illustrations by artist Cecilia Varela, and adults and children alike.
This upcoming release offers so much enjoyment for readers of all ages with everything within its pages. There is one last factor that makes this new book so enjoyable. It is a factor that has nothing to do with the music. It is the inclusion of the scientific names of each bird introduced. Keeping in mind that this book is aimed primarily at readers in grades 2 – 4, most readers within that age range might have some trouble pronouncing those names. But older readers (older children and adults) would have an easier time with them. That being the case, the inclusion of the birds’ scientific names and the information on their influence on each song could influence listeners to not only become interested in classical music, but also in ornithology and general bird watching. All of this combined with the book itself and its companion CD make this a wonderful addition to any music teacher’s library, believe it or not at any grade level. It will be available June 1st via The Secret Mountain Publishing.
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