Year 5 Music

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The Orchestra

Half an hour before a performance, the concert hall is quiet. The stage lights shine on empty chairs, arranged in the shape of a fan, all pointing toward a platform at the edge of the stage. Can you spot this platform where the conductor will stand?

Ushers lead the first audience arrivals to their seats, and the hall begins to stir with quiet conversation. Soon, the musicians enter from backstage, carrying their instruments and walking to their places. They settle in and, just as athletes stretch and move their bodies before a big sports event, the musicians begin to warm up. The concert hall soon fills with high-pitched toots, deep rumbles and plucked strings. To the audience it sounds a little chaotic, but soon the musicians will be ready for the concert.

From out of all the noise, an oboe sounds the note A. Soon all the other musicians are playing the same note. Violinists draw their bows lightly across all four strings of their instruments; the A is one of them. If any string sounds off-pitch, a violinist turns the tuning pegs to adjust it.

The musicians have spent many hours practising for the concert, and now they are ready to perform. The conductor crosses the stage, steps up on the platform, bows to the audience, turns to the orchestra, lifts his or her baton and signals for the music to begin.

Fanning out in front of the conductor, the orchestra includes four major families of instruments. The strings are played with a bow or plucked with a finger; the woodwind and the brass instruments are blown; the percussion instruments are struck with sticks or mallets.

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The conductor knows the music and every instrumentís part. Even when all the instruments are playing, the conductor can hear if a note is played too high or low, too loud or soft, or out of rhythm. The conductorís job is to help all the instruments blend into a beautiful and well-balanced whole and to make sure the music is played the way the composer meant it to be played.

The conductor reads from a score in which each type of instrument has a stave and the notes they play together are above one another on the page. The conductor is like a coach who tries to get all the members of the team to work together to ensure a winning performance.

This activity is adapted from pages 184-186 of What Your Year 5 Child Needs to Know.