This is a sample of the new "listening guide" that the Toronto Symphony is going to be using for "developing audience appreciation". I discussed this with my orchestral violist friend and we both are of the opinion that this doesn't offer very much at all in terms of actual knowledge, but just sort of a weak illusion of knowledge. In other words, you see these colored sections with the little musical instruments and you have a visual map, but one that doesn't actually tell you anything. It is like a very primitive cartoon of a performance.
Here is my criteria for "is there real information or not?" I ask myself, can I identify the piece in question by looking at the visual aid? Take the one above. What piece is it? Is it a violin concerto? Maybe, maybe not. It has some counterpoint, ok and it is in C major, ok, but that describes hundreds if not thousands of pieces. Actual music notation, though it certainly takes some training to read, does actually tell you something--everything, actually. If I see this, for example, it precisely describes the piece:
That is the opening of the Haydn Violin Concerto No. 1 in C major.
So that's the situation: a virtually meaningless cartoon, that doesn't seem to have any real content, or very rich content that takes training to read. I suppose we have to look at the actual purpose of the visual aid. If it gets more people out to the concert then it is a success, if not, not. But will it? I somehow doubt that, but I suppose I could be wrong. What does concern me is the worry that people might think that there is no need to have a look at the actual score if you have one of these cartoony visual aids handy.
Here is the visual aid for the first movement of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4:
This tells you the tempo, Allegro, that the piano is answered by the strings, the winds play some stuff, and so on. The odd thing is that most of the information is simply text ("Allegro"), most of which uses standard technical terms in music like "bridge" and "transition" and "exposition". If you don't know those terms, then this won't be of much help. If you do know what those terms mean, then it is likely that you can also read music.
Honestly, this kind of thing is like a bastardized analysis with little pictures of the instruments and pretty colors. Actually learning to read music a bit would be ever so much more useful, if, that is, you were curious about how music works. And why wouldn't you be?
Here is the opening of the score of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4:
|Click to enlarge|
All the other notes are just alphabetical from A to G. For example, the note above the G on the treble clef is A, then there is B, C, D and so on. It's not that hard. I'll save telling you about how rhythm is notated for another day!
The truth is that visual guides like the one used by the Toronto Symphony are a regression to an early primitive form of musical notation.
Now let's listen to the first movement of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4. This is Mitsuko Uchida with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra: