Welcome to the Symphony

Welcome to the Symphony
text by Carolyn Sloan, illustrated by James Williamson (Workman Publishing Co. 2015/$24.95)

The lament frequently heard is that music education is sorely neglected in this country. While that observation is less apt in Charlottesville than elsewhere, the fact remains that the level of musical understanding among young people generally is very low. Rather than simply bemoan that state of affairs, two collaborators from Brooklyn, New York, decided to do something about it.

Author Carolyn Sloan, a music educator at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, along with her artistic collaborator James Williamson have created a new children’s book that succeeds both in its educational objective of teaching young people about symphonic music and as an excellent primer for parents as well.

Taking as their starting point the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a scholarly mouse sets about instructing his fellow mice about classical music and the symphony orchestra while they listen to a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth, excerpts of which can be played using the book itself.

The scholarly mouse, who could serve as a model for his human counterparts, instructs about the instruments of the orchestra, the role of the conductor, and even music theory. His commentary is insightful, and the reactions of his little friends are utterly charming. The illustrations are colorful and elegantly presented. The commentary is suitable for understanding by young children four to eight years of age, but adults can learn from it as well.

The text and illustrations, both of them very fine, are accompanied by special musical examples coded by number that can be accessed by a keypad on the front of the book. The auditory examples are of astonishing sonic clarity. Small cellular batteries, providing power for the musical examples, can be replaced by using a screwdriver to open a covered compartment at the back of the book. The binding and overall construction are rugged and should be durable, even when used by delighted children for many hours of instructive play.

There are other books on the market intended to entertain and instruct children about appreciating classical music, but none does it better than Welcome to the Symphony. Children will love it, when they can manage to get it out of the hands of their parents. It is highly recommended.

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