Children's Book of Music: An introduction to the world's most amazing music and its creators, from DK, for Non-Fiction Monday

Children's Book of Music: An introduction to the world's most amazing music and its creators, from DK (2010, 142 pages, with accompanying cd)

DK set themselves an ambitious task with this book--to concisely survey the music of the world, in an inclusive way, in a book for kids. The result is a pretty astounding book. It's not without issues (about which more below), but it's pretty fantastic--the best book about world music for children I've ever seen.

The Children's Book of Music is divided into three sections--- Early music (50,000 BCE - 1600 CE), Classical music (1600-1900), and Modern music (1900--). Early music is the section of the book that most deeply delves into musical traditions around the world. It begins a fascinating smorgasbord of what we've learned from archaeology and history about truly ancient music, but quickly fans out into music across cultures. The gamelan orchestras of Bali, which get a wonderful double-page spread; the "world of wind" features Polynesian nose flutes and South American pan pipes; "rituals and religious music" is (rightly) broadly defined, with Maori singers, National Anthems, the Soweto gospel choir and more sharing a double-page spread. There's another about Yatsuhashi Kengyo, "father of modern koto." These sections are all lavishly illustrated with pictures of people from today’s world, making music and dancing.

I could provide many more examples, but I hope this gives you some idea of what this part of the book is like. I would have loved this section of the book, if its title, Early music (50,000 BCE - 1600 CE), hadn't implied that all the musical traditions described ended in 1600. This implication is contradicted the photographic evidence, and the text itself, that clearly show these musical traditions as alive and vibrant today. I think that DK probably meant "music that had its beginnings long before 1600" but still, I do not like the wording they chose at all. Big Sigh.

In a children's book geared toward a western audience, it's not surprising that there's a generous chunk (part two of this book) about"classical" music. This is a primarily European section, although there are nods to diversity, with mention, for instance, of the Beijing opera, and a rather lovely spread about "dazzling dances" that is nicely diverse. And there are other pleasing bits of diversity in unexpected places within this section-- "Brassed off," for instance, leaps away from the orchestral instruments one might have expected,and includes a large illustration of a triton shell player, pictures of the shofar and nafir, the serpent and the bazooka. So it's not nearly as dominated by "great European music" as it might have been (although it is very famous-composer heavy). I think, however, that the title heading here is somewhat problematic, too, because "classical" music didn't stop at 1900, as the last section (Modern music (1900--)) of the book indicates....

When I reached this final section of the book, I turned to my husband for his opinion. He's an ethnomusicologist, and has taught courses on world music that include many of the subjects discussed here (like the blues), and he's much more knowledgeable about reggae, and jazz, afropop, and rock then I am. He gave a running commentary as looked through the book ("oh good, they put her in" type remarks), and in general was impressed and approving of the choices DK made about which musicians to highlight (although he wanted more about Dylan...). (His main complaint about the book, incidentally, was that his own class of instrument, the bagpipes, doesn't get a mention).

In short, this is a beautiful, diverse book (albeit still skewed in favor of western music). The accompanying cd is a brilliant touch that brings the musics discussed in the text to life. There is much to appreciate here, with fascinating information made accessible through clear writing and marvellous illustrations.

I just really really wish (getting back to that troublesome section heading) that DK hadn't fallen into the trap of putting non-Europeans into the past, when it is clear that there are many non-European musical traditions that are alive and well. And though the subjects that are included in this book are dealt with in clear, balanced, informative ways, I wish, as well, that there had been less emphasis put on performative music. I would have liked more about music made communally--music that doesn't need a large audience,or any audience at all. Like lullabies, work songs, and Irish music played in someone's kitchen...

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted today by Rasco from RIF!
(disclaimer--review copy received from the publisher)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Charlotte, for posting at NONFICTION MONDAY today. I was delighted to read about this music book; I am a music lover, wish I could discipline myself to make the time to take up piano again!


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