Thursday, May 8, 2014

Maestro Classics (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

We've been listening to two new CDs from Maestro Classics.  A combination of children's classic stories, classical music performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, history, music theory, these are geared toward children ages 5-12 but were loved by all the Falciani kids, big and small.  We've been listening to Casey at the Bat and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel ($16.98 each). Included with the CD  is an extensive "liner notes" activity booklet. (The programs are also available as MP3 downloads with PDF activity books for $9.98 each)

Our family is big on baseball, and there are many days where I think our home team - the Philadelphia Phillies - should be renamed the Mudville Nine.  I knew we were going to love this one, but I was surprised just how much.  Jude struggles with listening to stories without having a lot of visual input, but because he knows baseball, he could follow along with the story fairly well.   He could follow along with the ideas of loading up the bases, and "Strike one, strike two, strike three, yer out!" Within the liner notes are the text of the story, related-theme activities (for example, a crossword puzzle with the clues all about baseball), and music to the Suzuki-style piece "Casey Tango."  You can guess who grabbed her violin to try it out!  (You can hear her play the first four or so measures here).

Each CD starts with the story being told in a dramatic reading by Yadu, a narrator for the Stories in Music concerts at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.  His clear diction is easily understood, and the excitement (or dejection) as the stories progress is genuine.  (Yadu also "moonlights" as Dr. Konrad Czynski, a Minnesota State University professor.) Behind the spoken story is music,  composed or arranged and conducted by Maestro Stephen Simon.  It's not "background" music -- it's part of the story!

Maestro Classics Review

While Casey has the traditional "pipe organ" of the baseball field, Mike Mulligan starts with bright bagpipes.  I really liked how each was a totally different style -- it wasn't "oh, there is some music to play in the background," but rather the music was written for the tenor of each story.  In addition, the secondary music is an introduction to distinct styles - while there is a tango written for Casey, the "Mike Mulligan Song" is a breezy, big-band swing.  Both give your student the opportunity to play and sing along with the band and become part of the story.

After the story, a bit of background history is shared by Bonnie Ward Simon.  She explains about story and the author.  Maestro Simon returns and he then explains the music of the story - instruments chosen, the tempo of the music at a specific part of the story to help underscore the emotion, etc.  Then, the story and music is replayed.   While the younger children didn't really grasp anything new, the older ones were able to better hear the interplay between the story and the music.  This led to discussions of how music is used in film and TVs shows to heighten emotion, or tell a story.  One thing we talked about was our recent trip to Disney, and how the different areas play different music to evoke different feelings -- Adventureland's percussion and the feeling of heading off to an exotic locale versus the fiddle-filled bluegrass of Frontierland.

Maestro Classics Review

These were great CDs for "roadschooling." As I was previewing the CD, Damien heard "Casey's March" start up and came over to the couch, then started marching around the coffee table!  Then listening to it later in the car, he was annoyed he couldn't march (a little hard when you are strapped into a carseat!) Luke enjoyed the story as part of his "Tall Tales" literature unit - Casey and the Mudville Nine are as much a part of the American storybook as John Henry.   At first I was unsure that these would be little more than a glorified audiobook, but they are so much more!  Having the music makes the stories even more exciting and dramatic, and we're looking forward to investing in other Maestro Classics titles!

The Crew reviewed a total of four titles from Maestro Classics; click the banner below to read what the others thought!

Click to read Crew Reviews

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