You Have the Perfect Seat With the Orchestra App

Total Score: 29.5

Orchestra by Touch Press is an impressive view of what is possible on an iPad.  On the other hand, maybe it is even beyond what I could have imagined as possible.  It is part theatrical performance, part text, part commentary with music, part musical score and part visual aid showing how musicians combine their talents to play classics.  Most of all it is impressive. 

Price Rating = 5     $13.99.    Put simply – it is worth the price.  I would happily pay more to add additional musical pieces to the app.

Ease of Use Rating = 5     You touch the screen to easily move through the various options.

  Readability Rating = 5     All fonts are readable.  You might find it easier to read some fonts by switching from portrait to landscape.

Will You Use It Rating = 5     There are hours of exploring available on this app and once explored – more hours revisiting your favorite parts.

 Downsides Rating = 0     It is a large app and you need to make sure you have space.  That is not a downside, just something to consider.

  Consumer Review Rating = 4.5    There are fewer than 80 reviews, but overall they are very positive.

Why Do You Need This App Rating = 5     This app helps you understand how classical music pieces are assembled and to better understand the instruments themselves as well.

How does it work?

  1. The HOME screen for this app has a list of musical pieces available to explore.  If you did nothing but stay at the HOME screen the music alternates between the selections.  This may help you determine which one you want to dive into.  If you tap on the screen as a piece plays it will move to the full presentation.  You will see a note (no pun intended) on the opening screen that the quality of the music will be improved by listening through your headphones.
  2. The performance has many layers.  My favorite part is watching the layout of the orchestra and seeing each section move through the piece.  The website describes this as a mesmeric synchronized beat map.  It is also possible to hold and drag your finger around the orchestra to focus in on each section.
  3. You can see video of the conductor or one or two sections of the orchestra—or watch all four (including the beat map) at the same time.  Tapping on any of the four screens will make the selected screen larger.  Tapping the X at the top reduces the size.
  4. You can follow the musical score (full or curated) and listen to (or read) commentaries on the piece.  The musical score includes individual parts played by various musical instruments.
  5. By tapping the book icon you can read a little history of the piece.  When you put all of these features together you might be tempted to say, “WOW.”
  6. From the HOME screen, you can tap the Sections and Instruments tile located on the bottom third of the screen (assuming you are in portrait mode or right third in portrait) and see an array of musical instruments.  You can choose to explore the percussion, brass, woodwinds or strings.   Tapping the words (percussion, brass, woodwinds or strings) brings up a paragraph describing the section.
  7. If you tap an individual instrument, you get content about the instrument, the ability to move the instrument around so you see all sides or you can watch a video of a member of the orchestra describing how it works.   At the bottom of the screen there is a piano showing you the musical range of the instrument.  You can even tap on the keys of the piano to hear the notes that particular instrument plays.  In the case of some of the drums you have the option to hit (tap) them in different ways.  (Maybe you want to say, “WOW” again. I know I did.)
  8. There’s actually more.   For each instrument you can tap on a showcase video of that instrument in performance.
  9. One of the options in the Sections and Instruments section is the option to learn more about the art of conducting.  Just tap on the image of the conductor.
  10. At the bottom of Sections and Instrument screen is an “About the Orchestra” button.  Tapping it brings up several chapters taking you from the origin of the orchestra to specific information about the Philharmonia.
  11. By tapping the SHOP button, you have the option to buy the music or other apps by Touch Press.

In my description above, I did not explore how valuable this app could be to help children learn more about specific instruments or composers.  It would allow them to listen to each instrument and think about which one they might want to learn how to play.  For that matter, they can explore the sound of the instrument as described above.  I know I had fun playing with it.

The Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, performs all the pieces.  You truly have the best seat in the house when you listen to the music and watch the performances on this app.  You will enjoy it and likely want to give as a gift to someone else.

Music included:

Haydn: Symphony No. 6!
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
Berlioz: Symphony fantastique
Debussy: Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune
Mahler: Symphony No. 6
Stravinsky: The Firebird
Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra
Salonen: Violin Concerto

Devices:  Designed by Touch Press, LLP, this app is compatible with iPad and requires iOS 6.0 or later.   The demo on the site gives you a good view of how the app works.

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