Thursday, January 12, 2012

TOS Crew: Maestro Classics

I was so excited when we were given the opportunity to review The Story of Swan Lake from Maestro Classics. Other bloggers from the Crew had reviewed Maestro Classics CDs in a previous year, and the word of mouth had been enthusiastic.
Maestro Classics bills itself as "classical music for kids" but it's not simple or dumbed-down. For example, in their Story of Swan Lake CD, you get Tchaikovsky's incredible music as the background to a re-telling of the story of Swan Lake. Our girls had different reactions to the story; they already knew the basic plot. One listened all the way through, one ran from the room with her hands over her ears when the evil Odile appears in the guise of the enchanted swan-princess Odette -- she knew what was going to happen, and didn't want to hear any more. The third wandered in and out, stopping to enjoy her favorite musical moments, beautifully performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The CD also includes a brief biography of Tchaikovsky's life, but this isn't dry and dusty stuff. The biographical sketch highlights details of interest to children -- and adults! I had set the CD going and was only half-listening, but was soon drawn in by the interesting narrative.

There's a track on the CD that we suffered through (actually I was the only one to listen all the way through; the girls deserted me early on in the track) where the main theme from Swan Lake is played as a heavy metal tune, complete with electronic distortion (I think I heard it once called "snarling guitars"). That's not really our cup of tea, but it wasn't enough to spoil the CD for us. We can always skip that track in future listening.

Another section of the CD takes the main theme from Swan Lake and sets it to easy-to-learn lyrics. It's a teaching device, associating the melody with the composer's name and the main idea of the ballet's plot, and very effective, too. In a choir class last year, Youngest learned a number of composers this way -- singing a famous snippet of song with lyrics that include the composer's name.

The CD package includes a 23-page booklet with activities that complement the CD. There's a connect the dots, maze, crossword puzzle, a page that tells the story in a mix of pictures and words (I am wracking my brain for the technical term but just can't think of it), and a little bit of musical instruction.

Maestro Classics has done a great job of making classical music accessible to children! The music is engaging, breathtaking, beautifully performed. The narrator catches and keeps your attention. I even found the heavy metal track amusing, though the girls didn't; it shows how Tchaikovsky's theme can transcend genres and still have an impact.

Check out the Maestro Classics website to see more titles. There's also a Kids Club with a challenge (win a free CD!), puzzles and games, and answers to the puzzles in the activity books included with the CDs. There are even a few lesson plans (currently for Mike Mulligan and his Steam-Shovel, but more are said to be coming soon) and activities you can do at home.

Pricing and availability

The Story of Swan Lake is available as a CD for $16.98, or MP3 download for $9.98, at the Maestro Classics website.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of Maestro Classics at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received the CD version of The Story of Swan Lake for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

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