Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Schoolhouse Crew Review: Maestro Classics

Ever since Ashlyn started piano lessons, she's been very interested, and Lexie soon joined her in that interest (and started violin lessons). So, when Maestro Classics gave us the opportunity to choose two of their CDs to review, we were all excited!  We chose My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music and The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Maestro Classics Review

A few years ago we had the opportunity to review Peter and the Wolf and Swan Lake, but  this time I noticed a new section on the Maestro Classics website. They have a whole section of educational materials including free homeschool guides, ideas for projects, etc!

So, using ideas from the homeschool guides, I picked and chose activities that fit my girls' ages and interests so that we could spend a week doing a "mini unit" on each of the CDs.

Maestro Classics Review
As soon as I knew we were on the review, I reserved some of the library books suggested in the curriculum guide for My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music, so that we'd be all ready to go when the CDs got here.  One thing to note, at least in this case, the list provided for books about Kings and Queens isn't at all specific to Handel's time or really even to the British monoarchy . . . I would have found it more useful if the list had been a few specific books related more directly to the topic, at least one of the books included content I was uncomfortable with. Otherwise, these curriculum guides are amazing! Providing lots of suggestions for a wide variety of subjects, interests, and ages.

As soon as the CDs came, we listened to My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music. I originally thought we might listen to it in pieces, remembering that, when the girls were younger, they found these CDs to be too long, but with age, comes attention span . . .so we easily listened to the whole CD in one sitting this time.

The CD begins with the story of Handel's Water Music, including the music itself. This is the "main part" of the CD, and the longest part. It's followed by a track called "About the Story" which gives "background information" telling, in a more factual, less story, way about Handel and how/why he came to write Water Music. Next comes a short, kind of silly, song that takes a short piece of the music, and adds words telling abit of the story. Little Bit likes this song, the older girls kind of rolled their eyes, but enjoyed the next track, which is a conductor talking specifically about the music. The last couple tracks were for Little Bit again, encouraging the children to sing along with the above mentioned, silly song. She LOVED it :)

I think it works well to have the tracks broken up like this, alternating something for the littles, and something for the biggers to keep everyone interested!

Over the next several days we enjoyed various things from the curriculum guide, but the highlights for my girls seemed to be the food on this one. We learned about England, since that's where Handel was living at this time.  Since we love tea parties anyway, the girls were excited to try the recipe for scones. It's always fun to see the girls having fun together in the kitchen! And the scones turned out great!

Time for tea!

The geography activities in the curriculum guide also suggested learning about Italy, and one of the suggestions was to make gelato, but I couldn't find our ice cream maker, so we compromised and bought gelato instead. The girls didn't mind, hee hee. But Little bit didn't like it, and chose plain old strawberry ice cream instead. None of us minded not having to share with her :-)

After we finished learning about Handel, we moved on to The Sorcerer's Apprentice.  The story is what Disney's Fantasia is based on, and the format is similar to the other, and again, Little Bit's favorite part was the part the big girls rolled their eyes at . . . in this case, playing along, on pots and pans, to the March of the Brooms. Despite the eye rolls, they DID tap along with a pencil though :)

Maestro Classics ReviewAshlyn had some complaints about the story itself. She felt the Sorcerer was too "mean" and that the Apprentice had just made a mistake. In About the Story we learned that this version is based on a poem by Goethe. It's believed that he wrote the poem, based loosely on an ancient Roman story by Lucien, which had a different moral, that magic doesn't work. Since we're currently learning about the Greeks and Romans in history, we wanted to hear the original story, but I wasn't able to find it, except to buy a book, which wasn't in the budget at the moment.

Our favorite part of the curriculum guide for this one was the information about German castles! After we cast the link up onto the tv, and read about, looked at pictures of them all, Lexie got busy trying to sculpt Neuschwanstein Castle out of clay. I have to admit I was . . . skeptical, but she did a great job! Little Bit decided to make a "castle table" instead, and did a pretty good job, with some help from Ashlyn.
Little Bit's table

Lexie proceeded to spend the next couple of hours looking up additional information about Neuschwantsein Castle, and was really annoyed when some of the sites were in German, hee hee. I love products that lead to wonderful rabbit trails of learning!!!

The finished masterpiece!

My Name is Handel is for ages 5+, and The Sorcerer's Apprentice is for ages 6+. I would say both are for 6+. Little Bit is 5, and while she enjoyed the more interactive parts, they were still a little over her head. It worked well to let her flit in and out of the room while we listened, and join in when she wanted, but I don't think it would be worth trying to use with JUST her.

These wonderful products are available as CDs, for $16.98 each, or mp3 downloads for $9.99. In addition to price, another consideration is that the CDs come with an activity booklet, the mp3 downloads come with a .pdf version of the booklet. If you're using this with multiple children, that can be frustrating because there's only one booklet with the CD and it generally includes things like crossword puzzles etc. For that reason, if you have multiple children who enjoy activity book type things, you might want the mp3. Since my kids prefer more hands-on type things anyway, we just focused on the stuff in the curriculum guide and the girls just read the information pages in the activity books.

Needless to say, we had a LOT of fun with this review product. They make great stand-alone unit studies, or music curriculum options, but they would also work great to use along with other curriculum resources that reference the topics. Both of the titles we reviewed would fit wonderfully into their respective time periods of history, and I suspect we will revisit them when we cover those areas of history. We also used Peter and the Wolf when the music was referenced in Little Bit's preschool curriculum last year.

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