Reviews /

Before Music: Where Instruments Come From

Authored by Annette Bay Pimentel
Illustrated by Madison Safer
Published by Abrams Books

Tagged , ,

Water drips against a stone…and instruments develop from that. A found shell is shaped and polished…and horns are born. This marvellous book explores real and possible starts to groups of musical instruments, and gourds, silk and reeds all have a part to play.

Beautiful, earthy illustrations of shepherds, smiths, drummers, ocarina-players and lumberjacks show how inventiveness and craft have brought us instruments as diverse as the saxophone and zither, the balafon and the ipu hokioko, or Hawai’an nose flute. Some readers will revel in these words!

The structure of each section is at once intriguing and easy to follow: A double spread of Before Music shows how early people – very often women – in cultures around the world, have begun something that develops into musical instruments. Further illustrations and short text show these instruments, for example the Ogane, or Temple Bell in Kyoto; panpipes, steel drums (and the story of their prohibition); the flexible sheets of a drum and the hammers of a piano – and a note at the end explains their classification. Another section tells us in longer prose with a full-page illustration of a musical innovator or interesting contributors to a region’s culture. How does wood make sound? Who developed the modern Western drumhead? How does singing work? Culturally sensitive, engrossing, provocative: the author and illustrator start from first possible inventions and move through more recognisable instruments from around the globe.

This is a fascinating book that many musical children and young people (I think Year 6 and older) would love, a starting point or reference text for a class project on music. There are activities such as ‘rubber-band ukuleles’ to try, and some interesting reference books for adults or older readers to look for towards the end.