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What Makes Humans Beat?

One of my favourite classroom discussions is what makes us human. The answers are always diverse. I am constantly surprised by young people's knowledge about the natural world: how it demonstrates the same capacity as humans. Humanimal: Incredible Ways Animals Are Just Like Us! by Christopher Lloyd and Mark Ruffle neatly flips my question and the assumption that we can somehow separate humans from the rest of the natural world. (This year I promise to flip my question.) I am however fascinated by how story-telling is so central to what makes us human and sharing these stories through sound. Words, but also music.

There are some great books currently published taking a long view. Mick Manning and Brita Granström's latest collaboration explores The Story of Music: A History of Music for Children. They take us back to the very beginning of music - the sounds and rhythms we can make with our bodies - to Twentieth Century Pop. It is comprehensive covering all the periods of music and musical genres, profiling some of the defining musicians and music, all on a double spread that is richly illustrated. Best of all, Mick and Brita include a suggested playlist: a fantastic education for your ears!

Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History is a visual cacophony read either as a traditional book or folds out to be nearly two and half metres of continuous art work. This exciting format draws you into the rich history of music from across the world, tracing three main strands: musicians and composers, music and social history and musical inventions. The authors Nicholas O'Neill and Susan Hayes have also included a playlist accessible on Spotify, or alternatively the songs can be searched individually. Ruby Taylor beautifully illustrates this fantastic book.

Meanwhile Myles Tanzer takes a different approach, promising a soundtrack to match your mood, accompanied by eighty artists. The chapters headings dispense with perhaps conventional names of emotions, instead, listing artists to 'Get Pumped Up With', 'Take A Stand With' or 'Dance Around With'. The individual artists are mainly mid- to late twentieth century, although not exclusively: for example Beethoven is included. Each artist is profiled with biographical information, a study of their music and fantastically illustrated by Ali Mac . There are plenty of suggested tracks to enjoy. An absolutely vibrant read.

My original starting point for this blog however was individual artists.

Little People, Big Dreams series published by Frances Lincoln is a publishing phenomena, covering so many iconic individuals that have made significant contributions to our lives, including music. Artists covered so far include Elton John, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie and there is now a special box set featuring a trio of female musicians, previously published as individual titles: Ella Fitzgerald, Dolly Parton and Josephine Baker. The series title Little People, Big Dreams seems to resonate strongly with this musical collection. Many of these mega stars have had humble beginnings, had to defy expectations and overcome prejudice to achieve their ambition. Each book is richly illustrated in full colour and brilliantly captures the inspiration and pivotal moments in an individual's life as well as a short biography at the back with suggested further reading to find out more.

Finally, a personal hero that I grew up with, Freddie Mercury. Puffin's Extraordinary Series includes a book on Freddie, born Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town, Zanzibar in Tanzania, Africa, 1946. It charts his meteoric rise, the fame and the fabulous and the controversy that characterizes so much of Mercury's life and music and Queen, the band they formed when they were students. Michael Lee Richardson's biography is incisive and compassionate, brilliantly communicating Freddie Mercury, the person as well as the superstar. Maggie Cole illustrates, highlighting perfectly the images alongside the music. I will never forget the first time ever watching the video of Queen's 'I Want to Break Free'.

Reading these great books affirms so much that is great about us. Take the hint though. Don't just read, listen as well.

Simon Barrett - Aspiring musician (and a dedicated thank you to Mike from Daventry and Fiona Harrison for all your encouragement and inspiration).


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