Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: Maestro Classics' The Tortoise and the Hare

What do you get when you combine great story telling with the London Philharmonic Orchestra? Maestro Classics.

Maestro Classics produces CDs that are a wonderful story-telling experience and music education rolled into one. Classical music need not be unobtainable nor boring to young audiences. Maestro Classics strives to bring the magic of music to all ages.

Mission Statement
Maestro Classics™ is the ambassador of great music for both children and adults, helping them experience the art form in new and exciting ways. Through wondrous new recordings, innovative educational and performance materials, and uplifting live performances, Maestro Classics™ guides audiences as they expand their listening horizons and discover the magic that can only be called music.

Each story is told in the tradition of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf for a perfect blend of story and music. The merging talents of Yadu, narrator, and Stephen Simon, conductor and composer, make for an enjoyable delivery of each story adaptation by Bonnie Ward Simon. More about the CD series and the reasoning behind the structure can be read at

Titles available are:
  • The Tortoise and the Hare
  • Peter and the Wolf
  • The Story of Swan Lake
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice
  • Casey at the Bat
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
  • Juanita the Spanish Lobster
  • Juanita la longosta espanola
The title I received for review was The Tortoise and the Hare.

I'll be honest; I wasn't expecting much from this product. My children have always enjoyed listening to stories on tape. Over the years, we have become pretty loyal to two different series and I wasn't sure how this one would compare. I was also a bit suspicious that the music element would seem a bit forced.

If packaging accounts for anything, it gives an impression of quality. The colorful three-fold cardboard sleeve contains an introduction from the Simons, a 23-page guide, and CD. The guide has general music information such as instruments of the orchestra, notes and fractions, and time signatures. Also included is story specific information. For example, in the guide for The Tortoise and the Hare, there is a one-page spread explaining the differences between a turtle and tortoise and a rabbit and a hare, music to a song in the story and related puzzles.

There are 7 tracks on the CD. The first is the story itself, lasting 20.43 minutes. While I've heard the story of The Tortoise and the Hare many times, this version was quite enjoyable. I've never heard of the narrator, Yadu, but he did a fabulous job. This is not a dumbed down version; the vocabulary is rich and despite my original concerns, the music component is not forced.

The following three tracks, approximately 10 minutes long, tell a bit about the story, feature a song from the story, and explain the included music. The latter was my favorite portion. Conductor Stephen Simon shares how and why he selected various instruments, rhythm, and music to portray the characters and various events. He highlights a component that might otherwise be taken for granted with an unexplained listening.

I particularly liked that the music discussion took place after the story track, so listeners could simply enjoy the story performance without an initial dissection of parts. After learning more about the story and music included, the listener is directed to listen to the story once again on the next track. The listener, with more information on both the story and music, is then better equipped to understand the purpose of the story, to recognize the interaction of the music and story, and hear the individual instruments. The following few minutes to the CD highlight the "Pretzel Vendor of Paris" song and encourage the listener to participate in a sing-along.

I was pretty impressed with this product. My only issue wasn't about the product, but that my kids were a bit too old for it. I think they actually enjoyed it, but associate The Tortoise and the Hare as being for much younger children. It was a bit of a stumbling block for my tweens. However, this is an excellent CD for younger children, especially if they are involved in music lessons of any kind. It would be a great starting point to get them to notice music around them in general, whether its use in a favorite movie or what type of story it tells on its own. I would love to see this same concept applied to stories more appealing to older kids. I noticed that my oldest perked up during the portion explaining the music choices as I'm sure it wasn't something she considered during the first listen.

Individual titles run for $16.98 or you can take advantage of the current 3 for $45 special. Listening samples of Peter and the Wolf and The Story of Swan Lake are available at the Maestro Classic website,

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.


Debra said...

I was not expecting to like this either... and my older kids were pretty ho-hum initially, but like you mentioned, the part with the conductor explaining the music intrigued them. They have really enjoyed listening to it over again after hearing that part. Enough so that we're getting 'em all for Christmas this year. Shhhh... don't tell anyone!

Maestro Classics said...

Hey Heidi,

This is a belated thanks for the wonderful review of our Tortoise and the Hare CD. I just wanted to let you know that since you reviewed our CD we've made a Facebook page so that our fans can participate in monthly giveaways (we have a big one coming up for the full 8 CD set!) and get coupons. We'd love to invite you and your readers to join our page or check out our new free homeschool music curriculum guides and thanks again for the lovely review!

Maestro Classics