The Recipe for A Modern Orchestra

There are many other odd and interesting woods which will be found in every symphony orchestra. Drumsticks will be found made of snakewood from Dutch Guiana, a reddish-brown wood with spots in color from brown to black, similar in markings to that of a snake.

The fingerboards, pegs and tailpieces of violins are made from African ebony, brought ail the way from the tropical forests of Africa. The bars of xylophones and marimbas and often the castanets are made of rosewood from Brazil or Central America.

This wood ranges in color from reddish brown to deep purple or black, with streaks of purple through it, and it gets its name from its fragrance. It is ideal wood for the purpose, since it is hard, dense, takes a high polish and produces a brilliant, resonant tone when struck.

Then there is mahogany for drum shells, hickory for drumsticks and drum hoops, walnut for tambourines, maple for violin backs and bassoons, and basswood for "cases.

Some people find less music in the orchestra when they learn that the death of from two to three sheep is required before one violin can be equipped with strings. It doesn't seem necessary, but such is the case, and such is the price of great music. So-called "catgut" used on violins is made from the intestines of sheep.

The average length of the sheep intestine is twenty-four feet, and it requires from ten to twelve half-intestines to spin a string only four one hundred ths of an inch in diameter, since only the fine, soft, submucous membrane is used. A set of four violin strings is eighty-eight inches long on the average, and into a set of four violin strings go the intestines of from two to three sheep.

Even old Dobbin contributes his bit, for what would a violin bow be without horsehair? Makers today use 150 hairs about twenty-eight inches long in a standard bow, although Tourte, who created the violin bow of modern times, used slightly fewer hairs. Then the pig comes in for his share, for tom-tom heads are usually of pigskin.

All fine drumheads are of calfskin, the thinner and finest heads coming from the skins of "slunks" or unborn calves. Many different materials are used for mallets of bass drums, tympani, marimbas and bells. Among them are yarn, felt, soft rubber, hard rubber, rawhide, lamb's wool and pyralin.

Copper is the most important metal used in the construction of band and orchestra instruments. The big tympani or kettledrums are drawn from one piece of copper sheet into the half-sphere bowl.

Copper is also the principal ingredient of brass used in the bells of brass instruments, about seventy parts of copper being combined with about thirty parts of zinc to form brass. Valves, keys, braces and other parts of the brass instruments are made from a brass alloy incorporating in addition small quantities of tin, aluminum, lead or other metals, depending upon what is expected of the part.

Metal clarinets and flutes are often made of what is called nickel silver, an alloy of nickel and other metals. Nickel, chromium, silver and gold are used in plating various parts of many instruments used in the band and orchestra.

From the forests, from the foundries, from deep mines and across great seas, from desert wastes and tropical jungles come, in a real and true sense, the great music of the symphony.

If asked to give a recipe for making a symphony orchestra, the historian might start out: Take some oboes from the Orient, some clarinets from Greece and some horns from Palestine. The man of commerce might start out: Take some cane from the Var district of France, some Pernambuco wood from Brazil, and some grenadilla wood from Mozambique, South Africa.

Another and better way would be to say : To form a symphony orchestra of about one hundred pieces, make a mixture of about 40 per cent violins and violas, about 20 per cent cellos and basses, with just a sprinkling of a harp or two.

Make another mixture of woodwinds composed of flutes, single reeds and double reeds, up to about 15 per cent. Make an equal quantity of brass mixture, composed of trumpets, trombones, horns and tubas. Pour all three mixtures together and add about 6 per cent tympani, drums, bells and traps.

The recipe for a modern concert band would be something like this: Make a mixture of about 38 per cent clarinets soprano, alto and bass. Add to it about 10 per cent other woodwinds oboe, English horn, bassoon, flute.

Then make a mixture of about 38 per cent brass, including cornets, trumpets, trombones, horns, baritone horns and bass tubas. Pour these two mixtures together, stirring in at the same time about 8 per cent saxophones. Then add about 6 per cent tympani, drums, bells and traps.

By: Malcolm Blake

About the Author:

Malcolm Blake has spent years of his life devoted to studying music online and off. He is currently working on projects about learning to play the guitar and how to learn guitar chords online.