Enjoying the Music and the Story of the Nutcracker With Maestro Classics

Last year I had the privilege of reviewing two CDs from Maestro Classics, a company that was new to me at the time. The kids and I really enjoyed the music and stories from the CDs, and this year I was excited to have the opportunity to review one of Maestro Classics’ brand new CDs- The Nutcracker.

We received a physical CD – The Nutcracker– from Maestro Classics. The CD is approximately an hour long. The Nutcracker can also be purchased as an MP3 download.

Review of The Nutcracker CD from Maestro Classics

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Maestro Classics

The tagline for Maestro Classics is “Stories in Music.” The CDs, created by conductor Stephen Simon and his wife music educator Bonnie Ward Simon are unique. The CDs present classical music pieces combined with narration so that listeners can really hear the story behind the music. When we had the opportunity to review for Maestro Classics last year, I quickly realized that this story form is an excellent way to make the music more enjoyable and to help the listener make connections with the music.

I have to admit that I am not a music person. I’ve listened to classical music, and I have the kids learn about composers and listen to their music so that they will be well-rounded and aware of the culture of classical music. But I don’t know that much about what I’m listening to. I have found that hearing the story with the music really helps me to more fully appreciate what I’m listening to.

The Nutcracker

I’ve seen the Nutcracker ballet a few times in my life. I’ve seen it presented by a professional group and by a local ballet school that presents The Nutcracker each year. I’ve read the story of The Nutcracker to the kids at Christmastime, and we’ve listened to parts of the music from the ballet. I know that the first time I watched the ballet, I had no idea of the story behind what I was hearing and seeing. Although there were parts I considered beautiful, the whole thing didn’t have much meaning behind it.

I’ve been intending to take the kids to watch the ballet for a few years. I’ll think about and then get busy around the holiday season and forget to plan a trip. But, my younger girls now have friends who are dancing in The Nutcracker, so I’d love for them to be able to see it now. I chose The Nutcracker from Maestro Classics so that the girls would have a background of the story when they saw the ballet. Mainly the younger girls- ages 11 and 10- listened, along with myself. The other kids were in and out, so all of us heard at least part of the story.

The Nutcracker is divided into twenty tracks based on the various segments of music throughout. Jim Wiess, well-known for his audio book readings, is the author and narrator of the story that flows along with the music. Listeners hear the narration throughout the story with words, then pauses for music. Jim Weiss has a steady, easily understood voice that makes it easy to hear and understand the story.

The cover insert for the CD is also an educational tool. There is a word scramble puzzle and information about the harp as a musical instrument. All of the CD inserts on the various Maestro Classics CDs offer educational information and activities.

The curriculum guide

Another nice feature of Maestro Classics is that they offer a variety of educational materials to go along with the stories and songs that they produce. A whole page on the site is devoted to educational materials that include sheet music, puzzles and games, ideas for incorporating music into your family life, musical projects you can do at home, Montessori styled music lessons, articles about music education, and curriculum guides.

I downloaded the curriculum guide for The Nutcracker, and, although I haven’t incorporated the activities yet, I’d love to look at some of these with the kids. If you enjoy teaching with unit studies, I think this would be an excellent themed unit study to use around Christmas. The Nutcracker curriculum guide has a variety of ideas and activities. Much of this is in the form of links to internet articles and activities. The Nutcracker curriculum guide offers activities for learning more about:

  • science- the workings of a nutcracker
  • ballet- it’s history and physical fitness ideas and activities
  • history- the history of nutcrackers and the ballet
  • geography- Christmas around the world
  • math- several links to “Nutcracker by the Number” sites and printable pages
  • music- learning about the composer of The Nutcracker and some music history
  • art- links to art and crafts projects that are Christmas and Nutcracker themed
  • language arts- an exploration of fairy tales and the author of the original Nutcracker fairy tale
Our experience
I played The Nutcracker in two settings. It’s a little lengthy to listen to all at once- almost an hour of music and story. The younger girls and I were the primary listeners, although the other kids were in and out of the room. I was once again impressed with the quality of the CD and the awesome story telling with music that I enjoyed in the other Maestro Classics CDs. 
The story telling really helped us to understand the story behind the music and ballet. Although I had heard the story and read a Nutcracker book to the kids, I’ve never really seen how the story fit with the various musical parts in the ballet. All of us will enjoy the ballet more now that we’ve had the story to go along with each part. We’ll better understand what we’re seeing in the dancing.
Maestro Classics have really helped me to have more of an appreciation pieces of classical music, and the narration in The Nutcracker, as with the other CDs we’ve listened to, really helped us understand the story behind the music.
The details

Price: $16.98 for the physical CD

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