Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Maestro Classics {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

When our children were younger, I had a several classical music CDs that I played at naptime and bedtime. As they grew older, they started picking audiobooks or other music CDs and now I'm embarrassed to say that our classical CDs are pretty dusty.

Maestro Classics breathed new life into our days with classical music CDs that make listening fun! We've been listening to My Name is Handel: The Story of Handel's "Water Music" and The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The two CDs are very similar, but different enough that I'll talk about them separately.

My Name is Handel: The Story of Handel's "Water Music" shares a lot of the history of music in Europe during Handel's lifetime and specifically about Handel's musical career. Addison is taking a high school level church history course this year and thought it was interesting to hear about how the Elector of Hannover became King George I of England because of the ongoing dispute between Catholics and Protestants. This historical information is all presented in an easily understood and even entertaining manner with the music carefully woven throughout. Lauren's favorite part of this CD was the segment when it plays a short portion of Handel's "Messiah." She remembers hearing Addison sing it during the big Holiday Card to Tucson performance each December.

The main focus of the CD is "The Story of Water Music" which lasts nearly 40 minutes. The remaining 10 minutes of the CD includes additional historical information, the "My Name is Handel" song, and explanations of musical terms such as overtures, sonatas, suites, concertos, and oratorios. Younger listeners will enjoy playing and singing along with the "My Name is Handel" Sing-Along track.

The companion booklet in this CD tells more about Handel's life, including details that weren't discussed on the CD itself. Lauren (8 years old) particularly appreciated that the words to the "My Name is Handel" ditty were included in the booklet. On the CD, they had sung a few lines along with the Water Music so that listeners could identify the song, but we needed to see the words written out in order to sing along.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice introduces children to the song made famous by Walt Disney when Mickey Mouse played the part of the apprentice in the 1940 animated film Fantasia. For years I had falsely assumed that Disney had taken the music and then made up the story about a sorcerer's apprentice. Instead, the story dates back nearly 2000 years and was written down in poetic form by Goethe in the last eighteenth century. Paul Dukas composed the famous symphonic piece in the late nineteenth century, many years before Disney made it popular.

Two versions of The Sorcerer's Apprentice are included on this CD -- one with a narration and one without. The music lesson on this disc delves into the technical aspects of the piece by showing how a specific motif in the song (the falling water, for instance) is repeated in different forms throughout the piece. I enjoyed being able to pick out some of the places Dukas' used this repeated theme when I listened to the entire piece without narration. Lauren consistently preferred to hear the story in the narrated version.

The companion booklet for The Sorcerer's Apprentice provides information about the composer and about orchestras in general. In addition to showing all the instruments in the orchestra, it specifically names several types of pitched percussion instruments (ones played with mallets). This booklet also includes a matching activity, a code to decipher, and a simple crossword puzzle.

I highly recommend Maestro Classics. If you like history, buy My Name is Handel: The Story of Handel's "Water Music." If you like music, especially the technical side of it, buy The Sorcerer's Apprentice. If you'd like to introduce your children to the basic instruments in an orchestra, buy Peter and the Wolf (which I reviewed several years ago).

If you want a fun way to introduce your children to classical music or if you just want to check off the box in your mind that says good homeschooling moms make sure their kids know some classical music, buy several of the Maestro Classics CDs!

Maestro Classics recommends My Name is Handel for ages five and older and The Sorcerer's Apprentice for ages six and older. The CDs are available for $16.98 each or as downloads for only $9.98 each. If you buy the mp3 version to download on the Maestro Classics website, you will also receive the companion activity booklet as a pdf file.

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