Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review: Maestro Classics

As a mom of boys, I’ve read many, many books about construction vehicles in the past 6 years.  One of my boys’ favorite books is Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  They always enjoy this fun story!

We were thrilled when we recently received a review copy of the Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel CD from Maestro Classics, along with a review copy of another story called Casey At The Bat.     Since my 6 and 4 year old boys are playing t-ball this spring, a baseball story also appealed to our family!

Maestro Classics, classical music for children

These are not just an audio story, but SO MUCH MORE than that!  What makes Maestro Classics audio stories so special is that they are designed in such a way that children learn the story behind the story, and they are also introduced to classical music and elements of music through fun children’s stories.  Bonnie Ward Simon and Stephen Simon, the executive director and music director of the Washington Chamber Symphony, produced these albums after years of experience with sold-out concerts for young listeners. 

I must admit that I had my doubts about whether the music element would appeal to my children, but I was quickly convinced as I watched my children interact with the CDs!  There is no doubt in my mind that these CDs are a terrific way to introduce young listeners to classical music, training their little ears to listen for details.

Many of the CDs (including the ones we received) are labeled for ‘age 4+ and families’ or ‘all ages’.  I did see a few listed for ages 5+ or  8+, so you’ll want to look at the suggested ages before purchasing.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

Mike Mulligan, audio story, classical music for children, Maestro Classics

We first listened to this CD together on our long drive to our homeschool co-op.  What a treat to listen with my kiddos! This CD is so much more than just an audio story! 

My 6 year old REALLY took a liking to this CD.  After we listened to the CD as a family, Alex claimed this CD as “his”.  He has listened to it almost EVERY night as he’s falling asleep.  (The only exception are the handful of nights when his 4 year old brother, with whom Alex shares a bedroom, has said he needed a night off from Mike!)  Alex has memorized almost the entire orchestra production, and he has hummed the entire tune to prove it!  He absolutely ADORES this CD!  (The CD has also made it back to the car for a few longer trips – it really is well-loved in our house!)

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel begins with an audio version of the book, complete with wonderful sound effects and background music from the London Philharmonic Orchestra.   The Irish sounding music was a great fit with the story!

After the story ends, there is a fun “About The Author” segment that shares some fun facts about Virginia Lee Burton, author of Mike Mulligan.  I enjoyed learning that Ms. Burton shared her ‘stories in progress’ with children to get their opinions of her stories.  Did you know that a CHILD gave her the idea to use the steam shovel as the boiler of the town hall?  How fun is that?!

The third track on the CD is an original song about Mike Mulligan, followed by another track of the composer explaining the song and the music in the story.  HERE’S where it got really fun for us!

The composer explained the sounds of the orchestra, talked about some of the instruments used, and explained certain elements of the background music.  Afterwards, the story of Mike Mulligan is played again while you listen for certain elements in the music.  Wow, we had overlooked so much in the music as we listened to the story!

We listened for two different songs playing simultaneously, the trumpets making airplane sounds (at which point we buzzed around like airplanes), and made ‘steam’ with our mouths as we heard the steam sounds in the music.  My boys giggled, laughed, and go so excited!  As they did so, they were also learning to listen to elements of music and learning the names of the instruments.

The CD ends with a sing-along of the Mike Mulligan song, using audio cues to help young listeners know when to begin singing.  Since we use this in the car or at bedtime, I wasn’t able to catch them in video or picture to show you their JOY in participating in this!  I will say there were squeals, giggles, and lots of happiness!

Casey At The Bat

Casey At The Bat, audio story, classical music for children, Maestro Classics

My boys first listened to this one without me, begging to hear it at bedtime one night.  The next morning, they informed me that this one wasn’t as good as Mike Mulligan.  I was curious about why they would say that, so we listened to it together.

I must admit that we’d never read this story before receiving the CD.  I chose this CD simply because my boys are playing t-ball this spring, so I figured a baseball story would appeal to them.   After listening to the story, I quickly realized why they didn’t love it.  They were not familiar with Casey, and the older style of language in this story (poem) is a little difficult for a younger child to understand.

Casey At The Bat is a poem that was written in the year 1888, so the language style is new to my children…and, therefore, difficult for my children who had never heard the story previously.  After we listened together, I explained some of the wording in the story, and it suddenly made a lot more sense to my boys.  (I’d definitely recommend reading the picture book of this poem with your children before listening to this CD, but this  CD has a LOT of value once you’ve read the story!)

We enjoyed marching to the “Casey March”, singing “In A Cabin In The Woods” (a song that my children already know and love) and then listening for the song in the soundtrack of the story, and listening to children play “Casey” on the violin.   We even “marched” in the car by using our hands to keep beat on our arm rests!  (I participated at stoplights only, I promise!)

This is fun to note: I was just replaying the “Casey March” on the computer as I write this review, and my 6 year old came RUNNING EXCITEDLY into the room hoping that I was going to play the whole CD.   For a boy who didn’t care for this CD the first time he heard it, he has done a complete turn-around!

Other Information

Maestro Classics also offers a wonderful resource for homeschoolers on their website!  On this page, you can look up additional activities for several CDs that cover history, science, language, geography, art, music, and math.  Don’t overlook this helpful resource page!

Each CD comes with a small booklet (fits in the CD case) containing information on the conductor, narrator, and musicians.  It also contains song lyrics, descriptions of instruments, and activities like mazes and crossword puzzles.

my 4 year old maze-lover, hard at work

Purchase Your Own!

Maestro Classics offer both CDs for purchase and MP3s to download.  You may purchase a CD for $16.98, or you may download a product for $9.98.

We will definitely be purchasing more products from Maestro Classics, as I love how they intertwine quality children’s literature and classical music.  This CD series offers ten CDs of classic stories and poems, including Peter and the Wolf, Swan Lake, and the Tortoise and the Hare.  (They also offer one selection in Spanish, for a total of 11 CDs.)

If you’re looking for a fun way to introduce your children to classical music and music elements, my kids and I would give these products two thumbs up!  You can click on the image below to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew!

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