Friday, October 30, 2015

Review: Maestro Classics "The Nutcracker"

'The Nutcracker' has always been a favorite in our home. The girls really enjoy the music in it, and we have even gone to see it performed in person. Since we love Christmas music, it is not unusual to hear 'The Nutcracker' being played year round in our house. We have reviewed "stories in music" CD's from Maestro Classics before, so when I learned they were releasing a new CD of The Nutcracker I was very excited to have the privilege to review it, because I knew the girls would absolutely love it! Even better is the fact that veteran storyteller Jim Weiss is the author and narrator on the CD. We enjoy his distinctive voice and own many stories on CD that have been read or performed by him.

About Maestro Classics: This company marries classic stories with fine classical music performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and turns them into entertaining and educational CD's for children. They have an entire lineup of great stories complete with listening samples on their website. Each CD comes with a small study guide included, that teaches the listener about the music, and some background to the story. There are also expanded curriculum guides that can be downloaded for free from the website, to allow the parent to use the CD as a basis for a unit study.

About The Nutcracker: Nearly everyone know the classic children's story of young Clara being given a toy nutcracker on Christmas Eve, and the ensuing adventure when he comes alive and joins Clara and the other toys for a night of wonderful escapades. Is it a dream? Does it really happen? Those are the questions that keep this story alive and fitting for children.

About this CD: The CD is about one hour long, and features the story of the Nutcracker told by Jim Weiss. His narration is fantastic - very easy to listen to and enjoy. All the classic favorite Nutcracker songs are played in order. I noticed that some of the longer pieces were shortened to allow the story to be told in an hour, but I felt this actually enhanced the quality of the story, because the music flowed smoothly and did not feel too long at all. (In person, the Nutcracker can feel very long at times!) I actually enjoyed it much better with it being shortened to an hour, because I was able to enjoy all our favorite and familiar snippets of the music - Maestro makes sure those are still played.

About the study guide: The 24 page study guide that is included in the CD case is very informative. All the scenes are listed in order so the children can follow along and see what is coming next. I noticed that it also helped my girls to identify the actual names of their favorite songs more efficiently. There are also several pages that expand on the contents of the CD, such as the history of ballet, an informative study of the harp, and a short biography of Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, the composer of 'The Nutcracker'. Also included are a few word games for the children, using words and phrases descriptive of the story.

About the Curriculum Guide: We downloaded the free curriculum guide and looked it over, but have not used it for further study yet. It is a ten page list of extra resources to study to really explore not only the Nutcracker, but to incorporate it into a fun part of your home school day. There are ideas to explore in History, Geography, Math, Science, Language Arts, Art, and Music - all related to something heard in the story.

What do we think? My girls absolutely LOVED listening to this CD! I think I have heard it played just about every day since we received it. Their familiarity and love of the music from Nutcracker made this story very appealing. Listening to this story on CD has helped them to fully understand and appreciate the story line. I didn't realize that they never fully grasped the story of Nutcracker, even though I have taken them to see it in person. It took listening to this story on CD for them to understand completely what was going on from start to finish. I am very glad that they had the opportunity to experience this CD, and that they have a greater appreciation for the story now. The music on the CD is so well done, that I can see this CD being a family favorite for many years to come. The quality is absolutely amazing!  I think this CD would make a great Christmas gift for children.

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