Friday, October 30, 2015

Enjoying Classical Music With Maestro Classics' The Nutcracker {A TOS Review}

Maestro Classics Review
We had the opportunity to review the newest release from Maestro Classics recently thanks to the Schoolhouse Review Crew. My husband and I were thrilled to receive The Nutcracker, adapted by Stephen Simon. We were excited that we were going to get to share this classic with our children. 

This isn't our first time reviewing a product from Maestro Classics. Last year we were grateful to be able to listen to two of their other CD's: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel plus Casey at the Bat. These "Stories in Music" are great to listen to in the van on long trips or to have on in the background at home. The music for these wonderful productions is composed and conducted by Stephen Simon. The music is performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra while being narrated by Jim Weiss. 

Like the other CD's we received from Maestro Classics, The Nutcracker is stored in a tri-fold CD case. In the center section there is an activity booklet. Maestro Classics also provides additional educational material on their website. 

The Nutcracker is different than the other Maestro Classics CD's we have listened to. This is a musical production which has the narrated story added to it, while the others are stories that have had music added to them to help tell the story. This 58 minute production begins with the 1 1/2 minute overture which is also the introduction by Jim Weiss. He explains who wrote The Nutcracker story and the music, along with what the story is about. We then move into the rest of the production. 

The Nutcracker is a story that takes place at Christmastime. When the story begins, young Clara and her brother Fritz are excited about the Christmas party that is about to start. The narrator draws the listener into the story with wonderful descriptions of the tree and the decorations. We follow along as Clara and her brother play with the other children and eagerly await the arrival of Herr Drosselmeyer, the master toy maker and magician whose gifts are always so wonderful. This year he has brought life-sized dolls that move and dance. He then gives a trumpet to Fritz and a toy soldier nutcracker doll to Clara. Unfortunately, Fritz becomes jealous of Clara's nutcracker doll which leads to it being broken. Thankfully, Herr Drosselmeyer is able to fix it. Clara then lays it in a doll be to heal. The party is then over and they head to bed. 

Suddenly there is a magical transformation and the tree and all of the toys begin to grow, along with some mice that Clara had heard scurrying about. A battle ensues between the mice led by the Mouse King and the toy soldiers. The Nutcracker helps defeat the evil mice and then turns into a handsome prince who leads Clara into the moonlit, snowy land. We are introduced to the Snow King and Snow Queen and hear the Waltz of the Snowflakes. While in the Land of the Sweets, Clara (and the listener) is treated to several different performances. The Sugar Plum Fairy tells them that there will be a celebration of the Nutcracker's triumph of the mice. Several different dances are enjoyed before Clara must return home, left to wonder if it was real or all a dream. 

Listening to this CD sure did bring back memories for me. I recognized some of the musical selections I have enjoyed for years, though I wasn't sure which part of The Nutcracker they were from, until now that is. I figured out the names of my favorite selections: The Dance of the Reed Pipes and the Waltz of the Flowers. The addition of the narration was a wonderful help in understanding what was going on in the story. Not only did the narrator explain the different parts of the story and describe the dancing, he helped to understand different ballet terms. With the combination of the music and the narration we were able to picture the story in our minds. Though the narration is wonderful, I was glad that there wasn't storytelling going on during the entire CD. There are times when we are just listening and allowed to enjoy the music (after being told what is going on in that particular scene). 

As I mentioned, in addition to the CD, there is an 24-page activity book included. Each of the scenes are listed (which don't actually line up exactly with the tracks on the CD I discovered). We are then treated to a few articles: The History of Ballet, The Harp, and Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky. The musical notes for the Overture are included, for those who are musically inclined. Then there are some activities for the children: a Word Scramble and a Crossword Puzzle. The Word Scramble was a bit too tricky, but they were able to figure out most of the Crossword Puzzle by working together. 

Additionally, you can further your child's education with Maestro Classics by utilizing their Curriculum Guides. These are unit studies revolving around each story. There are lessons with interactive links for the following subjects: Ballet, History & Geography, Science, Language Arts, Art, Music, and Math. I can see us taking a couple of weeks off of our usual lessons in December to focus on The Nutcracker using these lessons. 

We loved this production of The Nutcracker. Having a narrator tell the story was fantastic, and Jim Weiss does a superb job. We were able to visualize the scenes, the characters, and the dancing. Speaking of dancing, the children also enjoyed dancing around to the music. The music was wonderful to listen to. 

The one thing that surprised me, was that this CD didn't have the educational content that the other CD's we have listened to do. With both of the other stories, we listened to the story set to music and then we learned something about the author, the story and the music. After we had the music lesson, we then listened to the story again in the hopes that the lesson would help us notice details we hadn't noticed the first time. I understand that the performance in and of itself is almost an hour long, but I would have still liked to have some sort of music lesson included. 

This CD was enjoyed by the entire family, though the children didn't focus on it the entire time. It is suitable for 5 years old and up, including adults of course. Now that we know the details of what is going on in the story, I think the children would be able to better enjoy a performance of the ballet, if we can ever get the chance to attend or view one. I definitely recommend The Nutcracker from Maestro Classics for your listening pleasure. 

You can find Maestro Classics on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube

My fellow Crew Mates were able to choose between The Nutcracker and Peter and the Wolf for this review. You can click on the banner below to read their reviews. 

Maestro Classics Review
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