Thursday, May 8, 2014

Maestro Classics

We were blessed to review two titles from the Maestro Classics collection: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music.

We are a big music-loving family. My husband majored in music in college and leads both the choir and the congregational singing at church. He and I have both been in multiple singing groups and a traveling handbell choir. (Actually, it was that choir and playing our parts next to each other that brought us together!) It is our desire to give our children a love of good music. One great way of doing that is through Stories in Music from Maestro Classics and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This series, meant for children an families, uses music to tell stories. You can listen to the music from a soundtrack without ever having seen the movie itself and get an idea of the emotions taking place. Music moves you. Just the other day while watching something, my 4-year-old asked, "Why is she mad?" After I explained that she wasn't, he questioned, "Then why does the music sound like that?" Music tells a story.

Bonnie and Stephen Simon understand the importance of music. They want families to be not only entertained by their productions, but also educated. They both have many years of professional experience (to name a few of their numerous accomplishments: Bonnie as the former executive director of the Washington Chamber Symphony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and Stephen as the music director of the same organization for 25 years). Now, they work together to create and compose these symphonic works.    

The story Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton is brought to life through this presentation. As the steam shovels are becoming outdated and replaced with newer engines, Mike stays loyal to his own steam shovel, Mary Anne. They work harder and faster than they ever had before and attempt to prove that they are still profitable. The music, along with the Irish bagpipes is beautiful and catchy. The story leaves you rooting for the underdogs. My kids (8, 6, 4) were immediately sucked into the tale. They had never heard the story of Mike Mulligan before, so it was fun for me to watch them as they became nervous, wondering if he and Mary Anne would succeed. The music perfectly matches the emotions the character feels at the story takes place. But that is just the first track of the CD! The rest of it is filled with so much information, such as the conductor himself (Stephen Simon) explaining why he chose certain instruments and pointing them out in the story. Those sections truly help you understand the music and give you a greater appreciation of it. My little ones asked to listen to this multiple times over the past few weeks.

Along with the CD is included a 24-page activity book. It contains biographies, a small portion of sheet music, info about the music, games, and more. This little book is great to teach the kids more about the music, instruments, and people, but I found myself soaking up the information as well. This package costs $16.98 and is good for ages 4+ and families.

I'll be honest, I chose My Name Is Handel: The Story of Water Music for my husband. I knew he would appreciate the music as he loves classical composers. I knew Handel only because of the "Hallelujah Chorus" and Messiah, so everything about this story was new to me. It explains who Handel was and why he wrote "Water Music." Just like the other title, this story is told on the first track of the CD and contains 5 more tracks of learning. They explain concertos, suites, and oratorios. They talk about how Handel was a showman and what he did one opening night to prove it. And they explain why everyone stands when the "Hallelujah Chorus" is sung. While I found the facts fascinating, I could see that my little ones were tuning it out. They just weren't drawn into this story as they were the other. I suppose it does really surprise me. The other was an adaptation of a children's book and this one was more of a biography. I'm sure they appreciate this one more as they get older.

This CD also come with a 24-page activity book with pages describing the instruments, talking about Handel and the time period, and more. This package costs $16.98 and is meant for ages 5+ and families.

My kids and I listened to these works many times: driving, folding laundry, coloring, or whatever. They enjoyed listening along and learning and reading through the activity books, as well. They've even asked if we could get more. Maestro Classics has other titles such as Peter and the Wolf, Casey at the Bat, The Tortoise and the Hare, and more. They even have fun things on their website like games and coloring pages as part of their Kids Club. If you'd like to give your family the love of music, I suggest heading over to listen to some samples. We've been impressed with the Stories in Music.   

To connect with Maestro Classics, you can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

You can read more reviews of these titles or of the others on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

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