Member Blogs > Pistil BlogMaking an Orchestra

  • Wed, 29 Mar 2017 04:38:00    Permalink

    This week, your correspondent cut up a first edition signed copy of 1931's Making an Orchestra by Dorothy Berliner Commins.  How could he do it? Only because someone in the 30's had already begun the cutting!  He was simply completing a work in progress.  And what a work-- kind of a cross between an obsessive-compulsive disorder (not that there is anything wrong with that) and a Kafka novel (ditto).

    Printed on good-quality paper that hasn't been seen since the war, this book features drawings of all the members of a standard symphony orchestra, and a few outliers, meant to be cut out and pasted onto a diagram, where they stand up with the maestro at their head.

    Delightfully, every string section is made up entirely of clones.  Also, there is only one horn player, though even Haydn used two, and Mahler generally required eight.  But, there is one of every percussion instrument.  There is even a basset horn, which apparently is an alto clarinet, and is certainly arcane by today's standards.  But then, so is the orchestra getting to be.

    Noteworthy is that there is not one woman, not even playing harp (a notoriously feminine instrument-- or perhaps of undetermined gender, like the angels that traditionally play it). 

    Ms. Commins was a pianist and the author of several books.  She lived until the ripe age of 102. Times may have changed since the 1930's, but Making an Orchestra lives on, now in 3 dimensions.

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