Orchestra instruments go beyond basics


When producing music, the balance of instruments adds to the beauty of the tune. All orchestras include the basic violin and clarinet, but then there are the “odd” instruments.

The boom of the timpani and the shrill flowery ornaments of the piccolo stand out in Kansas City Symphony performances, adding interest to the group’s melodies.

The timpani, also known as a kettle drum, carries a pitch when struck with a specific mallet. Unlike most drums, it is often tuned to ensure the pitch is neither flat nor sharp. A standard timpani set includes four drums ranging in diameter from 61 to 80 cm. High-end timpani bases are constructed of copper, but sometimes aluminum or fiberglass replace the copper. Typically, as in the Kansas City Symphony, only one timpanist is needed. The sound is so booming that one timpani can stand among the rest of the orchestra without sounding weak.

Contrary to the gusto of the timpani, the piccolo emits a dainty sound. It is usually constructed of silver or wood. Comparable to a small flute, it appears in many concert marches and creates music that sounds an octave higher than the flute. The fingerings are the same for both piccolo and flute; therefore, most musicians can play both. However, the piccolo poses more difficulties because it is nearly impossible to sustain tuned notes in such high registers.

By including more than just the basics, the symphony creates a rich, distinctive sound.