August 2, 2009


With fine arts programs in the public schools becoming about as rare as a Bach Opera, parents with a passion for classical music may be interested to know there is a rich variety of mulitmedia out there to help inspire a love and interest in classical music in the next generation. Here are some of our favorite picks:

The Composer is Dead, by Lemony Snicket (Book and CD) ~ "Benjamin Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" has been the gold standard for introducing children to instruments since 1946. The concept has been embraced (some may say enhanced) by none other than Lemony Snicket, whose picture-book overview offers the additional layer of a murder mystery. The CD presentation features music by Nathaniel Stookey, performed by the San Francisco Symphony. The story is well paced, employing wordplay, humor, and mild suspense to build a slow crescendo that originates with the delicate strings and climaxes with percussion. The bombastic Inspector, read by Snicket on the CD, sports pinstripes, a bowler hat, and a handlebar mustache in the book. As he interrogates each section of the orchestra, the instruments describe their whereabouts on the night of the crime in characteristic voices, telling something about their actual roles while offering imagery for the illustrator. Thus, "'We were performing a waltz,' said the Violins. 'We played graceful melodies so the ladies and gentlemen could spin around and around and around until they felt dizzy and somewhat nauseous.'" —Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library

Beethoven's Wig: Sing Along Symphonies~ Inspired and wildly imaginative, Beethoven's Wig is one of the best introductions to classical music you could give to your children. Featuring snippets of 11 classical music staples--Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, et al.--the disc and its creators, Richard Perlmutter and friends, pour on the silly lyrics the first time around to familiarize young ears to the old masters. Then in the last half of the record, the orchestra plays the same "serious" music pieces instrumentally. You might cheerfully recall Alan Sherman's popular spoofs of old classical works in Wig and you'll again chuckle at pieces like "Drip, Drip, Drip," which adapts Delibes's "Pizzicato from Sylvia." You'll also marvel at the expertise throughout the CD, with all the pieces well played yet thoroughly fun. Beethoven's Wig is an orchestral treasure with a sense of humor as old or as new as its listeners (and the fun questions that run throughout the CD's liner notes are almost as entertaining as the zany musical interludes). Highly recommended. --Martin Keller

Also recommended: Beethoven's Wig II & Beethoven's Wig III

Beethoven Lives Upstairs ~ Based on the best-selling and award-winning Classical Kids CD, Beethoven Lives Upstairs was hailed upon its original release as "a video masterpiece" by the Boston Herald and "the best family film to appear in a long time" by the Ottawa Citizen. The television special has been seen on HBO, PBS, CBC, the Family Channel and YTV and the home video has sold more than 250,000 copies in North America. Based in part on historical fact and featuring more than 25 beautifully-performed excerpts of Beethoven’s best-loved works, Beethoven Lives Upstairs presents the great composer as a hero for today’s children.

To view other titles from this series, click HERE. This series is often found in public libraries ~ check it out!

Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought) ~ Red was Mozart's favorite color. Beethoven was a slob. Clara Schumann's concerts were so popular that police had to be called in for crowd control. In this enthralling work, Krull dishes 16 of the movers and shakers in musical history--from Vivaldi and the "three B's" (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms) to Gilbert and Sullivan, Woody Guthrie and Scott Joplin (early critics of his ragtime accused it of causing permanent brain damage and ruining people's morals). Readers who thrive on offbeat information will be delighted by the splendid array of fun facts lurking in these informative and accurate snapshot biographies. Krull masterfully distills the essentials of each musician's life into snappy prose, an attitude echoed in the book's lively, playful design (the introductory page for each musician, for example, contains not only pertinent information but tantalizing, often cryptic "kickers" as well--the one above Brahms's name alludes to his checked underwear, which audiences occasionally glimpsed when the absent-minded conductor forgot to fasten his suspenders). Hewitt's caricatures feature full-sized heads on tiny bodies--a slant that plays up the quirky presentation. She, too, has an eye for detail, pulling out appropriate visual tidbits from the text--Bach's prized silver coffeepots, for example, grace a page corner. Even those only remotely interested in music will be hooked by these living, breathing anecdotes--the stuff of which the best biography is made." ~ Publishers Weekly

Also in this series: Lives of the Writers & Lives of the Artists

Is there a "field guide" to composers? Indeed, if you wish to have a little flash-card fun with the family, you'll want to pick up a Fandex Family Field Guide to Composers ~ "Combining 50 individually die-cut cards with full-color illustrations, plus hundreds of intriguing facts, stories, statistics, and trivia, Fandex is the newest breakthrough in information-packed, family publishing. Composers is a chronological history of composers and their music, with intriguing facts, anecdotes, and musical insights into composers from Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven to Gershwin and Bernstein, together with other composers who form the Western musical canon.For kids who are learning it all for the first time, and grown-ups who want to get it straight, Fandex puts knowledge at your fingertips. In full-color. "

Many of these items can be found in our favorite catalog for music lovers (not just classical, but Jazz, Blues, and Musical Theater too), Music in Motion, including these unbreakable classic busts for the truly obsessed!

On PBS you can find the children's program "Little Amadeus". On the Wunderkind website, children can enter young Mozart's world to play games, learn about music, and even send an email message (and receive a reply from) "Little Amadeus".

Check the listings to find out when Wunderkind Little Amadeus airs in your area by clicking HERE.

1 comment:

  1. I used the listen to "Mr. Beethoven Lives upstairs" and the rest of the series as a kind. I think my parent's probably still have them as cassette tapes. They're so awesome!


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