There is no better time to listen to a concerto, go to an opera, or decide to pick up the violin than September! Classical Music Month is a time that everyone can enjoy, even if your favourite instrument is the electric guitar.
Classical music is most often played by a symphony orchestra, which can contain over twenty six types of instruments. The instruments fall under the sections of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. In an opera production, voices are also used. Most of the instruments used in an orchestra were invented in the 18th and 19th centuries and are still used to this day.
Some instruments you may be familiar with are:
Violin: This instrument is the smallest and highest-pitched of the violin family, which also contains the larger viola, cello, and double base. It has four strings and it is played by drawing a bow across them. The violin is extremely important in an orchestra because of its tone, and it often plays the melody line in a piece. Despite being portrayed as a ‘classical’ instrument, the violin is also used in popular and jazz music.
Clarinet: The clarinet has the largest pitch range of any common woodwind instrument and is played with a single reed. It is a member of the largest woodwind family, but unfortunately many of its relatives are no longer commonly used, as they are considered obsolete. In most orchestral pieces, a clarinetist uses two clarinets, the A and B flat with which they can easily switch the mouthpieces.
Tuba: This is one of the more recent additions to the symphony orchestra, but also one of the most recognizable of the brass section. It has the lowest pitch out of all of the brass instruments and it takes the role of the ‘bass’. Often, an orchestra only uses one tuba, but sometimes it will use two. ‘Tuba’ means ‘trumpet’ or ‘horn’ in Latin―sure makes you wonder what ‘trumpet’ means!
Cymbals: In an orchestra, cymbals are used at dynamic moments to emphasize a feeling of shock or excitement in a piece. ‘Crash cymbals’ are the most common in classical music. These are the ones a musician will hold in their hands and clash together, which has also given them the name ‘clash cymbals’. Cymbals are often teamed up with a bass drum playing the same part, as one uses a high frequency and the other uses a low one. Contrary to popular belief, cymbals can also be played softly, or at ‘pianissimo’.
When you think ‘classical music’, you’ll probably picture Beethoven or Mozart, as you should since they are two of the most influential composers of all time, but there are also many famous modern classical composers as well. Think back to the last time you watched a movie and try to remember some of the music playing in one of the key scenes. Often the musical score for a movie is made up of classical music, and that music is made up of the same instruments used in orchestras hundreds of years ago.
So, for the month of September try picking up an instrument! Whether you decide to play ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ or ‘Ode to Joy’, just remember to have fun. Who knows? You could be the next Mozart!