Thursday, October 29, 2015

Get THIS Adaptation of the Nutcracker for Family Listening! {A Maestro Classics Review}

 {Note:  This post contains affiliate links to our hands-down favorite provider of music appreciation CD's and MP3's: Maestro Classics, from whom we received The Nutcracker for review. Read full disclosure here.} 

A couple of years ago, I randomly borrowed Casey at Bat out of the library when scooping up CD's, last-minute, to entertain my children on a 12-hour roadtrip.  Within minutes of popping the CD into our minivan's CD player, my entire family fell in love with
Maestro Classics, and, upon our return from the trip, scoured local libraries for more Maestro Classics selections.

Since then, we've enjoyed borrowing Carnival of Animals,

Jaunita and the Spanish Lobster,

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,

and, our favorite, The Story of Swan Lake

Oh, how we love the Swan Lake one and find ourselves singing, "Tchaikovsky wrote a great ballet.  It's name was Swa-a-a-an Lake..." so often since we learned the song on the CD!

So, when we were offered a chance to review Maestro Classics' The Nutcracker, we jumped at the opportunity.  Doing so would not only allow us to listen to one of Maestro Classics' latest productions, but would also let us OWN a Maestro Classics CD.  We were all so excited for it to come in!

As soon as we received our review copy of The Nutcracker, we unwrapped it and popped it into our minivan's CD player.  Much to the children's surprise, once the narration on the CD started, they did not hear the voices they'd become familiar with from other Maestro Classics CD's.  Instead, they heard another well-known to them voice: that of Jim Weiss! After commenting on their surprise, the children quickly quieted, enraptured by the story and music.  In the past, we have read picture books of the Nutcracker together, have seen friends in a local ballet production of it, and have watched parts of professional troupes dancing the Nutcracker online.  However, we have not done so often enough for the children to have memorized the story.  In fact, as we listened to the abbreviated Maestro Classics's version of The Nutcracker, I realized that my youngest did not recall much of our previous introduction to the story at all.  He was so taken anew as Clara's story unfolded that he would have literally been on the edge of his seat by the time the battle with the Mouse King came.

As it was, we got to our destination just as Jim Weiss' voice narrated a height of action that my youngest could not bear to leave the minivan in the middle of.  He begged to stay in the car to hear "just a little bit more!" And, so began our introduction to
The Nutcracker, the newest CD in the Maestro Classics' collection.

We listened to more of the CD on our return trip that day and, since then, my oldest has listened to the CD again when he had trouble sleeping one night and we all listened to it while doing laundry...

...or dancing around laundry as the case may have been for my daughter as the music of the London Philharmonic Orchestra swept her into delighted spinning.

I have also bookmarked the free curriculum guide that
Maestro Classics offers online so that, if time allows this Christmas season, our family might use it for a unit study.  (If time does not, however, there is always next year!  Most certainly, The Nutcracker, never gets old or becomes irrelevant!)

Child-Friendly, Plus!

Undoubtedly, Maestro Classics' child-friendly production of The Nutcracker will play frequently in my home and minivan during the holidays for years to come, and, perhaps, at other times of year as we study different topics or as the children request to hear the CD again.  And, we won't just listen to the music overlayed with the wonderful narration of Jim Wiess. We'll also enjoy the 24-page activity guide that comes free inside the CD case.  Among other things, this guide contains:

  • a listing of each scene within The Nutcracker.  (No scenes are skipped in this hour long version, either.  Some are simply abbreviated in conductor Stephen Simon's adaptation of the classic musical score.)
  • a brief History of Ballet
  • notes on the harp
  • background about Tchaikovsky
  • a word scramble
  • and a crossword puzzle

I just love when companies offer such value-added components to their products.  Between the activity guide in the CD case and the
free curriculum guide online, Maestro Classics can make any parent, teacher, music educator, or child pleased! 

In Case You Are Not Familiar with the Nutcracker


The story of the Nutcracker has delighted children and adults alike for decades both as classical music and a ballet that has inspired books, movies, and more.  As the story unfolds, a young girl named Clara celebrates Christmas with her family, when a mysterious guest arrives bearing life-size dancing dolls.  He gifts Clara, his goddaughter, with a special nutcracker doll.  That night, the family's Christmas tree begins to grow, toy soldiers and the Mouse King have a battle, and Clara's nutcracker turns into a handsome prince that takes Clara on a magical journey...In Maestro Classics' The Nutcracker, all of these scenes come to life through a blend of narration and music.  Jim Weiss, a premiere American storyteller voices over the music to tell the tale verbally.  However, he also pauses so the top-notch classical music played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra can do some of the telling itself. And, all this happens within the child-friendly length of about an hour.  What a great way to familiarize oneself with this classic musical tale.

I would highly recommend this adaptation of
The Nutcracker to others in either its CD- or MP3-version.  (A downloadable pdf of the activity guide comes with the MP3 version.)  From the very first listen, it is likely to become a well-loved favorite by families who:

  • are going to see The Nutcracker Ballet and would like to better familiarize themselves with the storyline

  • are already fans of Jim Weiss and would appreciate music appreciation being layered in with Jim Weiss' always-wonderful storytelling.

  • love Tchaikovsky's music.

  • seek quality music appreciation CD's to add to their collection.

Targeted for families with children ages five and over, I believe The Nutcracker can be enjoyed just as well by any age.

One Small Caveat for Regular Maestro Classics Listeners

My children and I truly enjoy The Nutcracker, but were all surprised that it did not contain educational tracks describing the creation of the music, the composer's life, notes on musical composition, and more as so many other Maestro Classics do.  I understand why this CD does not (because at an hour's length with just the narrated adaptation of the story, it is a "perfect length" for listening) and am glad that such things are contained in the 24-page activity book.  Still, my children and I missed hearing such connections on the actual CD. 

My nine-year-old said this about the CD:

I like how the prince is victorious.  I like the narrator, too.  I would like it if they added something onto the end like they do in their other CD's.  For example, I'd like to know more about the famous composers, which instruments are used in the parts, and stuff like that.

My eight-year-old said:

I like the music.  It changes with mood and tells a story.  I like to dance with it.  I like the storyteller, too.  I wish there were small details told after the story about the people and music.

My  five-year-old added:
I like the war.  It's exciting.  We stopped in the middle of it when the Mouse King was there, and I wanted to listen more.  The battle music makes it sound like a real battle.  The narrator tells the story and I can imagine the battles.

Me?  I echo all my children's thoughts.  The music is beautifully played.  The story is perfectly told with just enough narration between musical interludes.  The quality is top-notch.  But, yes, I, too, miss the music education I always get by listening to post-story tracks on other
Maestro Classics CD's.  Sure, I can get a similar education in the included activity guide, but there is nothing like hearing conductor Stephen Simon and his music educator/ executive producer wife, Bonnie, teach us about music as the music plays. 

I admit, I was secretly hoping to have more catchy lyrics that matched classical orchestral music play through my head for months to come as I have with the ditty from The Story of Swan Lake
, but, even without such extras, I am well-pleased with The Nutcracker and am confident you will be, too.  If you'd like a taste of it, see samples of the activity book and listen to samples of the soundtrack at the Maestro Classics' website.

Learn More

Maestro Classics
is currently having a sale for $50 off their 12-CD collection which includes
The Nutcracker and has FREE SHIPPING!

They also have their 13-title MP3 collection on sale for nearly $30 off.  This collection includes the soundtracks for each of the titles below, plus downloadable activity books, all as an instant download:

  • Peter and the Wolf
  • The Nutcracker
  • The Story of Swan Lake
  • Carnival of the Animals
  • My Name is Handel: The Story of Handel's Water Music
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
  • The Tortoise and the Hare
  • Merry Pranks of Master Till
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice
  • Casey at the Bat
  • The Soldier's Tale
  • Juanita the Spanish Lobster
  • Juanita la Langosta Española
Check out the Facebook page for regular sales!

Get social with Maestro Classics at:

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