A Young Person's Guide to Orchestral Sound

I. Ocean of Sound II. Din III. Quiet IV. Beauty V. Hands

Full orchestra: 2 flutes (2nd doubles piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 Bb trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, 3 percussion: [1 - vibraphone, 5 tom-toms, suspended cymbal, bell tree, sand blocks, anvil, red rubber ball (large), galvanized steel garbage can, tambourine, maracas], [2 - marimba, suspended cymbal, snare drum, triangle (large, small), orchestra bells, temple blocks, slapstick, wood block (small), metal folding chair, red rubber ball (large), brake drum], [3 - bass drum, tam-tam (large), wood block, chimes, sleigh bells, vibraphone, suspended cymbal, bicycle bell, key wind chimes], piano/celeste harp, strings, cued CD

Text: John Coy

Duration: 25 minutes

Commissioned By:
The Minnesota Orchestra in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota, as part of the Science of Sound project

March, 1999 by the Minnesota Orchestra, Michael Christie, conductor, and Steven Epp, actor, at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, MN

Available From:
Libby Larsen Publishing

Composer's Notes:
Sound is all around us, floating in the ocean of air. Soft, loud, beautiful, harsh—any sound we hear, any sound at all, has the possibility within it of becoming orchestral sound. After all, an orchestra is a group of instruments which expresses the sounds we find in our lives in a more painterly, more emotional, more poetic way. One might say that an orchestra carries in it the poetry of sound. A bouncing ball becomes the stroke of a timpani. The sound of a teakettle becomes a flute with a piccolo and very high violins.  An ambulance siren becomes clarinets, violas and trombones sliding up and down the notes of their instruments. Such is the nature of sound, always there, always reminding us of moments in our lives. Sound is also physics, science, and math in motion. 

Just as every sound is poetic, so every sound is scientific—full of scientific and mathematical properties. In the piece All Around Sound, the listener can experience both the poetry of the music and the scientific investigation of how a common sound becomes an artistic sound.

To compose All Around Sound, we asked students from four Twin Cities schools to use tape recorders, find some interesting sounds, tape them, and let us listen to them. We wanted to know what the students heard when they listened to the world. From those tapes we would find ten sounds and begin to compose the piece. We received 180 sounds including metal garbage cans, air vent fans, laughing, bouncing balls, airplane noise, pianos, chalk boards, pages of books, nose blowing, clocks ticking, singing, pop can tops, and much more. It was a beautiful collage of how the students heard the world.

We selected ten sounds from the tapes and began to compose the piece. We chose a ball bouncing, a garbage can, a person in heavy boots walking on dry leaves, an alarm clock, a telephone, a nose blowing, an ambulance, a school bell, television, and students talking. All during the composition of the piece, from May to March, the students have been adding sounds and learning about the science of sound.

Using the collected sounds, writer John Coy created words about sound for All Around Sound. Together we created a five-part piece for orchestra, recorded sound, and actor.  Part I, "Ocean of Air," explores sound in general. We hear words about sound accompanied by a single, onstage bouncing ball and the orchestra, evoking an atmosphere of ocean and space. Part I is abruptly interrupted by Part II, "Din," a montage of clamorous, tumultuous noises, all noticed and collected by the students.  Following "Din," Part III, "Quiet," brings a moment to breathe deeply and consider how each of us finds personal quiet in our lives. From "Quiet" comes "Beauty," a moment of repose and beautiful sound which concludes with the quiet sound of the hands of the audience, softly rubbing together to accompany a woodwind solo. From these hands flows Part V, "Game of Sounds," in which common sound and orchestral sound play and interplay, ending the piece with a game of sound and music.

— Libby Larsen

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