Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review of Maestro Classics

Maestro Classics Review
Maestro Classics is a company that everyone should know about. Whether you know a lot about classical music or are just discovering its joys, Maestro Classics can enhance your journey. Why is classical music important? Not only does studying music aid in the study of math and increase both concentration and relaxation, but (and even more importantly), knowing classical music is crucial to being able participate in Mortimer Adler's "Great Conversation." After all, just as you can trace the evolution of Western Civilization through its literature, so can you trace it through its art and music. Maestro Classics actually blends those elements together in its innovative products!

We were fortunate enough to receive for review the following: My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music and Casey at the Bat

Maestro Classics Review
Maestro Classics Review
Both of these CDs contain the same components: between 35-46 minutes of music and a 24 page activity book containing facts, sheet music, lyrics, and games and activities. The experience of listening to classical music becomes a complete experience encompassing history, literature, and biography.

Casey at the Bat

Beginning with Casey and the Bat (because it was my children's hands-down favorite), the CD is 35 minutes long, and it goes by way too fast! It begins with a full-sensory reading of the classic poem by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. By full-sensory, I mean that you hear the cheering and booing crowds, the vendors, and all the sounds of the game. You are *there* with Casey at the Bat. My kids have heard this poem many times before since I have read it to them previously. I grew up hearing my dad read it to me, and I have carried on that tradition with them. They had never heard it like this, though.

After hearing the poem, listeners are treated to the "inside story" of Casey at the Bat - a tale of a poem that almost wasn't the widely known tale it is today. As I mentioned, I have known this poem my whole life, and I didn't know anything of its history! What a treat to learn, as Paul Harvey would say, "The Rest of the Story." It's hard to imagine a world in which the iconic phrase "There is no joy in Mudville" would have no meaning!

The rest of the CD is a lesson in how to listen to music! My children were treated to "The Casey March" - that unique piece of music that was dedicated to Casey himself during the reading of the poem. They learned a little about the Suzuki method and about *how* to listen to a story in music (a great lesson in a short time period) before being treated to the full rendition of "Casey at the Bat" once again, which ended up being a richer experience for having learned what they were listening for! What an awesome way to enhance an already awesome poem.

Complementing the CD is a 24-page activity booklet. It includes a dot-to-dot of the baseball field, the poem's text, baseball facts, a biography of the composer, a crossword, sheet music of "The Casey Tango" and, my favorite, an explication of "The Casey March" as a recipe requiring a careful blend of ingredients to complete the song. It was this activity/explanation more than any other than really brought home the idea of composition to my kids (12, 10, 9, and 9). The two eldest have had piano lessons, so they can read music and understand the basics of music theory, but for my twins, this form of explanation was very effective!

Because there was only one activity book and four kids, my two eldest decided to let the twins have the fun. Michael got to complete the activities in "Casey at the Bat" and Mary-Catherine completed the activities in "My Name is Handel." Really, though, the dot-to-dot and crossword puzzle were secondary to the awesome information in the booklet.

My Name is Handel: The Story of Handel's Water Music

Oh, Baroque music! Sublime. My kids didn't realize they knew Handel until they heard this piece of music. That's what I mean about being able to participate in The Great Conversation. Classical music permeates our everyday lives. It has been co-opted by marketing machines because it resonates in our souls. How sad that most people can't put a composer's name to a piece and can't place a composer in his time period with his proper instruments, patrons, or motivations. Maestro Classics makes that effortless for homeschooling parents - really for all parents. 

The bulk of this CD is occupied by the piece itself (and other of Handel's compositions), interspersed by biographical narration by Yadu, Humanities professor. You hear "Water Music" itself, while also hearing how the piece came into being. It's simply wonderful. It makes learning about classical music *and* composers completely effortless. The rest of the CD contains shorter pieces. For instance, Track 2 features a "story behind the story" suggesting that the traditional thinking about Handel may be slightly wrong (I won't issue spoilers!). Kids then learn the "My Name is Handel" song. The conductor then addresses the audience explaining the piece (Water Music - obviously!). It is just like sitting down with the conductor of any symphony orchestra and having him tell you the inside story of the music. It's one of those things that I sit back and can't believe that you get for the price of this CD. Finally, listeners are able to sing "My Name is Handel" with the chorus.

The activity book that comes with this CD contains a wonderful biography of Handel, an explanation of the orchestra in his time, an overview of important London churches, a discussion of the harpsichord and the organ, the sheet music for "My Name is Handel" and a discussion of travel in Handel's day. There is also room to play a game of "Squares" or "Boxes."

Like "Casey at the Bat," this CD is amazing. It is so much more than just a recording by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It is a story, a lesson, and an aural treat. It is not school. It does not feel educational. Classical music was never meant to be educational or elitist. It was meant to be heard and enjoyed by everyone. Maestro Classics makes that ideal a reality.

How We Used The CDs

It is almost disingenuous to say that we "used" these CDs. We listen to them. We enjoy them. We love them. We have not listened to them only once. We listen to them all the time. We don't consider them school - we just consider them another in our listening options on any given day (as in - "Do y'all want to listen to Old Time Radio, Casey at the Bat, Handel, Swan Lake (another awesome Maestro Classics CD we own), the radio, or what?"). Casey at the Bat usually wins. One of the great things about these CDs is that they are not one-listen purchases. You absolutely can listen to them over and over again. The narration never gets stale. The music, of course, never gets old. The more you listen, the more you can appreciate both the genius of what Maestro Classics has done *and* the genius of the composition. My recommendation is, of course, that you buy them, but also that you don't make them formal schooling. Just put them on and let your kids listen. Don't explain anything. Let Yadu and Stephen and Bonnie Ward Simon do that. Your kids will be captivated. They will take from it what they can based on their age and ability - and that will be fine! It will be perfect.

Each of these CDs is $16.98. Casey at the Bat is recommended for all ages, while Handel is suggested for families and children 5+. 

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