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Classical Kids: Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Teacher's Notes (w/CD).

Classical Kids: Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Teacher's Notes (w/CD), by Susan Hammond. The Children's Group (1400 Bayly St., Ste. 7, Pickering, ON L1W 3R2), 2004. 36 pp., $12.98. Ages 5-12.

This delightful CD and book set was first published in 1989 and revised in 1998, with this version released in August 2004. The goal of the series is to pull students into the music and lives of great composers by establishing all emotional connection via a child in the story. A young boy, Christoph, tells how his family rented an upstairs room to Beethoven during the final year of Beethoven's life. The story line evolves from letters written between Christoph and his uncle. While the facts and anecdotes are historically based, the characters of Christoph and his family are fictional.

I found the story to be very compelling. It has great comedic appeal to children, with true stories such as Beethoven pouring water over his head in his room or writing music on the walls. At the same time it is deeply inspiring. When Christoph goes to hear Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, he remarks, "To think that he heard all this in his head!"

The thirty-four musical selections/excerpts are rich and varied, encompassing symphonic, solo instrumental, vocal and chamber music literature. They effectively complement the story line. Some listeners may find it frustrating to listen to the story and the music at once. There are rarely more than four measures of music without a voice-over. Young listeners may not object, however. The overall quality of the performances is quite good. The orchestra, conducted by Walter Babiak, achieves a full symphonic sound despite its small numbers. In addition, there are four singers, used mostly in the Ninth Symphony; a synthesizer, used sparingly in a street scene; flute and violin solos; and a pianist in many performances of miniature pieces, sonata movements and concerto movements. It would be nice to have more information on the pianist listed simply as "D. Bodle." Microphone placement also seems to vary on the piano selections. Sound effects abound, adding wonderful sparkle and drama to the story, making listeners feel as if they are right in the streets of nineteenth-century Vienna.

The Teacher's Notes, written by Susan Hammond, further develop the magic of the story and music. Correlation of other arts, discussion questions and musical explorations make up the fascinating six lesson plans outlined for grades K-6. Icons for suggested grade levels are in faint gray and difficult to make out. There are many interesting facts and brilliant activities, making Beethoven's genius as relevant today as ever. Reviewed by Susan Bruckner, Santa Cruz, California.
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Author:Bruckner, Susan
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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