Oct 29, 2015

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Maestro Classics The Nutcracker



My girls are a little bit "girly" and they love music and dancing. This leads to an interest in ballet and that leads to an eagerness to review The Nutcracker from Maestro Classics

Maestro Classics Review

Maestro Classics produces a series of musical classics to engage, entertain and educate children with age-appropriate experiences. Mixing music played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with quality narration, they aim to introduce children to the wonder and beauty of the symphony. 

The Nutcracker is a famous story that everyone knows... the tale of a little girl's toy that comes alive at a Christmas party and transports her off to fairyland for wonderful adventures. It is a beautiful ballet that is a holiday tradition for many. It's especially magical for little girls. My girls, ages 12 and 8 have seen the ballet performed many times. They love dressing up and going to watch it every December. So when I asked them if they were interested in listening to a CD of the music they both enthusiastically said, "Yes!"

The boys expressed a profound disinterest, but we ignored them and settled in to listen anyway. We set up a sort of "listening station". This involved: my laptop, for playing the CD; crayons and paper, for keeping our hands occupied while we listened; and the CD and program booklet, of course. 

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The girls listened and colored for about 30 minutes quite happily until I finally suggested that we pause it and listen to the rest the next day. If I hadn't had other plans for us I think they would have listened to the entire hour!

As I said, the boys were uninterested, but you notice who just happened to wander in and forget to wander out again?

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We also had a puppy show up and listen for awhile, although she might have just been there for the warm lap...

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The uniqueness of Maestro Classics is that they don't just play the music. In this adaptation of The Nutcracker, the famous Jim Weiss narrates what is happening as the music plays. He tells the story so the kids realize that the music itself is telling the story. At first, the girls found this slightly distracting, but they quickly realized that it enhanced the music and the experience.

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After we finished listening to it, we looked at the booklet that came with it. This contains: a list of the scenes of the ballet, a brief history of ballet, two bars of the overture, some information about the harp and about Tchaikovsky as well as short biographies of Stephen Simon (the producer) and Jim Weiss (the narrator). It also has a crossword puzzle and a word scramble. 

There is also a curriculum guide on the website that you can download for free. This ten page guide is basically a unit study that contains information about ballet, the story of how Christmas is celebrated around the world, the history and the science of nutcrackers, some language arts activities and more. It has clickable links to various websites where kids can watch videos, find coloring pages, read about authors, learn science, find instructions to make their own nutcrackers out of different materials and much, much more!

I asked the girls what they thought and they said:

Kaytie: It was fun to listen to. I liked the narrating. It helped point out the differences in the music as different scenes happened. I would like to play it on my laptop and listen to it when I write stories. In the booklet guide, I really liked the illustrations. I liked how it gave details about the scenes from the ballet. I liked reading about the history of ballet and I liked the games at the end even though I couldn't do them properly because the paper was too slick to write on. 

Abbie: It was exciting. I was freaked out when everything started growing, the trees and the walls were moving, and I didn't know what was happening but it was ok because at the end everything went back to normal. It was fun to listen to because it kept getting more exciting and I didn't know what was going to happen next. I liked the booklet, too. It was interesting. It was cool to read the stories of the guys who made it. (Simon and Weiss) and the description of the scenes.  

I have always enjoyed Maestro Classics products. I like how it makes introducing my kids to culture and classical music so easy and effortless. My kids naturally engage with Maestro Classics. The Nutcracker is probably our favorite, but then, isn't it everybody's? 

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