May 6, 2014

Maestro Classics: Mike Mulligan and Casey at the Bat (a Product Review)

I still remember the first time that I experienced the story Peter and the Wolf with music. Hearing the different characters represented by a variety of musical instruments enhanced the beauty of the story and I can remember so much of it even today. When I found out that I had the possibility to review Maestro Classics and two of their CD's (Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Casey at the Bat,) I jumped on the chance because I wanted to let my children to have a chance to make the connection between literature and music themselves.
Maestro Classics Music for Children Review

What is Maestro Classics?

Maestro Classics produces a classical music CD series aimed to introduce children to classical music, by taking beloved children's books and setting them to music. Every piece has been composed by conductor Steven Simon and is performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The stories are read aloud by a narrator while the music is being performed.

There are currently eleven titles in their collection:
• Peter and the Wolf 
• The Story of Swan Lake
• The Sorcerer's Apprentice
• My Name is Handel: The Story of Handel's Water Music
• The Solider's Tale
• The Tortoise and the Hare
• Juanita the Spanish Lobster
• Casey at the Bat
• Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
• Juanita la langosta espaƱola
• Carnival of the Animals

Each music CD sells for $16.98, but is also available as a downloadable MP3 for $9.98. As part of this review I was allowed to choose Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (one of our most favorite books) and Casey at the Bat.

How Did We Use It?

I made the decision to start with Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. This book is already a family favorite, so we own a copy of the book. The boys ran and got the book and got settled on the couch. Baby Britches was upset at first that it was not a DVD that I was putting in our CD/DVD player, but soon started paying attention to the music.

The first track on the CD is the story with the full symphony orchestra. The music starts first with the theme for the characters. We all liked the Irish feel from the Mike Mulligan Song. This theme was repeated many times throughout the book music to represent the main characters and it's a catchy tune. Once the story started, Baby Britches was totally into the music. He kept the book on his lap and listened to the narration and followed along in the story. 
After the story and music was over, I attempted to move to the next tracks on the CD which discuss the author, the music and a short little Mike Mulligan song. But the boys were not interested in this at all...the first time. Now when they listen they play the whole CD every time. The track about the how the composer put together the music is one they really like as it talks about the layering of songs that the composer did during the story plot--and it encouraged them to listen for these. So the next time they played the story, they came and told me when they heard the music layering. They like to sing along with the words of the Mike Mulligan song. The rest of the first week every single day they took turns wanting to listen and follow along with the book.

I had to move the CD player down so Baby Britches could push play. This was like his 5th time listening to it.
Over the course of the next week I think we listened to this CD 10+ songs. It's a favorite book, so I knew it would be very popular.

We listened to Casey at the Bat the next week. Baby Britches wasn't interested in this one at all, because it didn't have a book for him to look at pictures while it was playing. Little Britches didn't really like it because he had to really listen to the words and he didn't understand all the turns of the phrase. We listened to it again together a second time, with me helping him follow along in the included booklet which has the poem written out. We talked about what the story was about. Then I had him listen to the explanation of the story which is track #2 on the CD. This really assisted him in understanding. I went ahead and had him continue to listen to the entire CD. By the final track he could follow along with the booklet himself.

What Did We Think?

When I asked Little Britches for his opinion, he stated that he liked having the music in the background. Of the two CD's he greatly preferred Mike Mulligan. He loves the book and so he loved the CD. He didn't not like Casey at the Bat...he just prefers Mike Mulligan.

Baby Britches still loves Mike Mulligan and requests it regularly. He's content to just listen to the music now without reading the book. He doesn't like Casey at the Bat. He tells me to change it back to Mike Mulligan.

Both boys said they would like more of the CD's especially if there was a regular book to go with it.

As for me, I also preferred Mike Mulligan over Casey at the Bat, because the story is just easier to follow and I think I enjoy the music more. With both CD's I liked that there were booklets for each one, that contained additional activities that could be done relating to the story or music like crosswords, short songs or poems, trivia and more information about the composer. 

I do wish that the booklet had a link to a pdf where we could print out the activities instead of writing them in the booklet. If you have more than one child, only having the one activity is rather pointless. Little Britches didn't want to mess up the booklet, so he didn't want to do any of the activities in it.

I loved having the full orchestra accompaniment to the stories. Music really helps set the mood and the boys could follow along in the story just by being attentive to the music. We were able to talk about why movies have soundtracks and the point of them. Scary sounding music for scary parts of the movies make us relate to them more. 

I really liked the tracks "About the Author" and "About the Music". Both of these tracks give more information about the story and the music--with the story, you learn about the author and what led to them writing the story or poem and how long ago it occurred. In the About the Music, the child learns from the composer little details about the classical music and why he chose certain instruments or sounds. This is great music appreciation information to get the child to listen "harder" to the pieces.

But Wait...there's more to Maestro Classics!

If you visit the Maestro Classics homepage, there is a tab called Kid's Club. There is a place where you can get all the answers to the activities in the booklets, sign up to join their kid's club and get monthly games and activities, a place to find monthly puzzles and games and more!

Another tab you don't want to miss is the Educational Materials. By clicking here you will find links to Maestro Classics Homeschool Music Curriculum guides that match the CD's in the series. Talk about taking it to the next level! You have subjects like History, Art, Music, Geography and more integrated with the music CD for preschool to middle school!! 

The Educational Materials page also gives you links for sheet music, home projects, a Montessori music appreciation guide to Peter and the Wolf as well as a link to where you can buy lapbooks for each CD!

To me, having access to these things makes the CD's seriously increase in their worth to a homeschool!

Would I Recommend Maestro Classics?

Without a doubt, yes! We have really enjoyed using the CD's. I would love (and plan on) to purchase a few more for us, and I will be using the Music Curriculum guides that Maestro Classics has available to incorporate them into our schooling. These are going to be great CD's to take with us on trips and I love that my preschooler can "read" books while listening to them! I am incredibly fond of the classical music that is a part of these stories and like that I can encourage music appreciation and literature at the same time.

Remember that you can find the full list of the music CD's available (including Mike Mulligan and Casey at the Bat) over at Maestro Classics--and each one is just $16.98! Recommended for ages 4+, these CD's are great for the whole family, as I think both young and old will enjoy hearing these classic pieces of literature set to music. I find myself humming the Mike Mulligan tune quite often after listening to the CD!

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I only reviewed two of the four titles we were allowed to choose--why not head on over to another of my review crew members to see which ones they chose to review?
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