Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review: Maestro Classics

We really love classical music around our house. The girls all play instruments, and we have taken any opportunity that we can to attend concerts and give them an appreciation for fine music. We recently had the opportunity to review "Stories in Music" from Maestro Classics. Though this company has a number of great stories available, for this review we received the CD stories of "My Name is Handel: Story of Water Music" and "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel". 

What are Maestro Classics Stories in Music?  These CD's are the creation of Stephen & Bonnie Ward Simon. They set out to teach children an appreciation for fine classical music using familiar classic stories. The lovely music on the CD is played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

What is included on a CD? Each CD contains a classical story or biography set against a beautiful backdrop of music and dramatization. There are also tracks that contain information about the author, special songs or sound effects in the story, and explanations of anything unique that is in that particular musical score. There are also accompaniment tracks for the child to sing along with special music that is learned on the CD.

Extra, Extra!: Not only does the CD contain compelling stories set to music, but there is also a 24 page insert that contains additional reading material, sheet music and lyrics, and puzzles and games that coincide with the story. As if that weren't enough, the Maestro Classics website contains a wealth of extra educational features, including a Kids Club that has regularly updated puzzles, games, prizes, and interesting facts as well as a really neat Orchestra page.

What we thought of our review stories:

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

This was actually my first time coming across this story, even though it is a classic children's story. (Guess that is what happens when no little boys live in the house!) We expanded our review by ordering in the book and video of this story from the library, so that we could become very familiar with the story while listening to the CD.

The story tells of a steam shovel operator who helped dig all kinds of canals and projects (went along great with the industrial revolution and westward expansion topics we were discussing in history at the time) and then grew old and felt that he and his steam shovel (Maryann) had lost their usefulness and were no longer needed. Mike Mulligan and Maryann completed one last project in this story, and the music and special sound effects in the background were just amazing and very entertaining. They really made the story. For comparison sake, when we watched the story on video the children found it very boring because there was no incredible music playing in the background like there was on the CD!

Some things we learned: The musical patterns on the CD are explained in depth. We learned that there is a difference between Scottish and Irish bagpipes. We also learned several different musical terms, and how composers use various patterns to set the mood in their music. 

The girls' opinion: While the girls were not overly impressed with the story line itself (it definitely is one that would appeal to young boys) they LOVED the music on this CD and I found them listening to it over and over just for the Irish Celtic style music. 

Age recommendations: This CD is recommended for ages 4+.  I would add that any child who loves heavy equipment would probably love this story. It is a short story for young attention spans, lasting about 18 minutes long. The extras can be played separately for a total playing time of 51:14 minutes. 

My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music

The story on this CD was a biographical sketch of George Frideric Handel, highlighting the time he spent in England, particularly when he composed music for King George I. The London Philharmonic Orchestra plays Handel's "Water Music" while the narrator tells the story and breaks down the music into understandable components for the listener. 
Some things we learned: This story is full of good historical information (of 17th century England and Europe) as well as descriptions of the different types of instruments highlighted in the music that were mainly used during this time frame. There is a thorough explanation of various musical terms, and we were able to learn the difference between an opera, oratorio, and concerto. We also learned a lot of interesting new facts about the life of George Frideric Handel. The girls were already familiar with him because of their love for "Messiah" but we never knew that he finished his life in England, not Germany. 

The girls' opinion: They found the story very interesting, and again, loved the beautiful music that was played. 

Age recommendations: This is recommended for ages 5+. I think all ages would enjoy this CD because there is enough educational material to fascinate older listeners, but younger listeners can really learn music appreciation through the classical piece that is played. The story and music lasts nearly 40 minutes long, with a total playing time of 48:45 minutes.

Final thoughts: One thing I really enjoy about these CD's is that they are well integrated with educational and historical facts, as well as lovely classical music. They really do appeal to families, as all ages can listen to them together, especially parents and children, and then discuss them. I also greatly appreciate all the extras on the website. It is obvious that this company is passionate about filling children with a love and appreciation for fine music. 

One thing I love: Included on the website was a whole page dedicated to educational materials for educators which gives curriculum guides for the CD stories, as well as extra ideas to expand the CD into an actual unit study for your students. 

Costs: The physical CD case which contains both the CD and the 24 page full color booklet sells for $16.98. The mp3 download sells for $9.98. The games and extras on the website are free.

Social Media: Maestro Classics has a really cool Pinterest board featuring Homemade Musical Instruments. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.

The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewed several different Stories in Music CD's from Maestro Classics. To read about the others, click the banner below. 

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