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Happy 10 years of Music Monday

Happy 10 years of Music Monday

Today is the anniversary of the Music Monday campaign, celebrating the importance of music in our lives, especially in our schools. Last year, my son and I had the incredible experience of witnessing Commander Chris Hadfield perform the song above on a live link from the International Space Station at Science World, as well as hearing some incredible local school musicians perform.

Having the chance to learn music in school made so many other things possible for me. I went on to learn six different instruments, perform in concert bands, orchestras, pit orchestras for musicals, and jazz bands. I ended up working at one of the biggest arts centres in the world, due in no small part to those programmes. Possibly even more critical, it made high school livable.

So take a moment today to think about music in your life, and do what you can to keep music education happening in our schools. To get you started, visit the Access to Music Foundation for British Columbian youth.


iPad app review: Naxos Records’ My First Orchestra

iPad app review: Naxos Records’ My First Orchestra

Naxos Records' My First Orchestra app

As a musician myself, albeit a keen amateur one, I’m always looking for ways to involve Elliot in listening and talking about classical music. We watch concerts on TV, we listen to it around the house and talk about how the music makes us feel, maybe about which instruments we can hear. Sometimes if I’m feeling brave, I get out my cello and let him bow while I stop the strings, or we drag out the accordion for a bit of a polka party.

When I spotted Naxos Records’ My First Orchestra iPad app, I had to try it.

Tormod the Troll takes you on a journey around the orchestra, learning about the different instrument families and what each one sounds like. You get to hear a few composers talk briefly about their music, and Tormod even has a go too. The app is for ages four and up, though Elliot is only three and a half, he is quite interested in it. There is a lot of text on the screen most of time, and I was sure this would turn him off, but it doesn’t seem to. He goes back to it quite often of his own accord –  I have to admit I was thrilled!

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A price of $4.99 CDN is likely to stop a few people in their tracks, but let me tell you why it’s worth it.

Naxos Records has an interesting story – they are relatively new as record companies go, beginning only in the late 80s. Starting out as one Hong Kong entrepreneur’s idea alongside his high-end audio equipment business, Naxos grew into one of the most innovative and interesting classical record labels out there. They commit to recording new classical music, which is something spectacular in itself as the market for these recordings isn’t huge, and they keep their prices low. It’s incredibly important now, because without Naxos we wouldn’t have the ability to hear some of the newest composers at all. Within traditional classical music, they tend towards young performers and lesser-known orchestras. These are not substandard recordings, by any means.

Of course, this means they have an extensive catalogue to draw from when it comes to an app like My First Orchestra, and for your $5, you get full recordings of over 30 pieces of music. Full-length ones, not just clips. Whether your child will sit through an entire recording is something else of course.

There is loads to explore here, and I would happily recommend it. No wonder both the Sunday Times and the Guardian picked it out in their best apps lists.

Note: I just spotted this isn’t available in the US, but it’s good to go for the UK and Canada.

Disclosure: None, I spotted the app myself and paid for it.


My favourite Christmas music

When it comes to Christmas music, I’m a traditionalist. I like listening to Handel’s Messiah, Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, and choirs singing the old carols. Of course, we still play Nana Mouskouri because we listened to it as children. But my favourite Christmas album these days is from The Sixteen, a classical ensemble from London, their Traditional Christmas Carol Collection.

When I lived in London, I had the good fortune to work at Southbank Centre, a big arts centre that includes the Royal Festival Hall. One of my jobs was commissioning the text to go in the program notes for some of our classical concerts. The Sixteen were Associate Artists then, and it fell to me to edit their programs. I’m not a huge choral music fan, I have to say, but I respect the amount of research they put into their interpretations. As a group, they specialise in early English music, so the leap to Christmas carols is a logical one.

Putting all that aside, it is a collection of carols, beautifully sung, that brings to mind soaring cathedrals. It feels inarguably special every time I put it on, and that’s what I want at this time of year.