Orchestra and Composer Resources: Our Favorite Resources for Learning about the Orchestra and Composers
There are many fun resources for learning about the orchestra and composers. (This post contains affiliate links.) Here are my top choices. Jus’ Classical is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
My top four auditory choices for learning the orchestra families and instruments and yet also appreciating great music in an entertaining way are:
1. Benjamin Britten’s A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.
2. Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.
3. Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals.
4. The Constellations – A Guide to the Orchestra by Jonathan Peters. It is narrated and introduces not only the instruments of the orchestra, but the constellations and some of the Greek myths related to the constellations. I found it a great way to appreciate astronomy, Greek mythology and music all at once! There is an accompanying book called Meet the Orchestra with a CD download of The Constellations or the CD by itself.
Other audio favorites:
1. The Classical Kids series: A series of fictional stories about various composers, which are not accurate historically and do contain some mystical elements, but they expose children to a variety of each composer’s works with the beautiful soundtracks. Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, Mr. Bach Comes to Call, Hallelujah Handel, Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Mozart’s Magic Fantasy, Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage, Tchaikovsky Discovers America.They also offer “the best of” for some of the composers. The Best of Vivaldi , The Best of Bach, The Best of Handel, The Best of Beethoven, The Best of Mozart, The Best of Tchaikovsky.
2. Maestro Classics offers a series of narrated audio stories with orchestral accompaniment by the London Philharmonic, like Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Peter and the Wolf, The Story of Swan Lake, and My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music. The music is excellent and the stories are fun.
Here are some great books for exploring the orchestra:
1. The Story of the Orchestra by Robert Levine – this is a colorful book full of information in small pieces that kids can come back to many times and see something new. It includes an introduction to each instrument, stories of many composers, and a summary of the different periods of orchestral history. It also has a great CD. This is recommended for elementary aged children.
2. Welcome to the Symphony: A Musical Exploration of the Orchestra Using Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 by Carolyn Sloan. This book has a sound panel of 19 sound buttons which allow children to hear the instruments and sections of Beethoven’s symphony as well as teaches the basic grammar of classical music and the orchestra. This is recommended for children ages 3-8.
3. The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket. This witty story is a new favorite of mine with its stereotyping of instruments and those who play particular instruments. It is set up as a murder mystery – an inspector interviews the different instrumentalists of the orchestra to find out who killed the composer. Getting the version with the audio CD is a must to enjoy Nathaniel Stookey’s fitting musical accompaniment. This is recommended for all ages.
4. Zin Zin Zin a Violin by Lloyd Moss. This fun introduction to the instruments of the orchestra is a rhythmic, rhyming poem which also teaches about numbering of small ensembles of instruments: duo, trio, quartet, etc.
5. Meet the Great Composers by Maurice Hinson and June Montgomery. There are two books in this series, which provide short biographies, interesting information, a game or puzzle in each unit and musical excerpts on CD for 12 famous composers in each book. It could easily be used as a self-directed unit, each composer taking about 15-20 minutes to complete. This is for upper elementary aged students.
I also love these biographies by Mike Venezia.
And then, of course, there are the Jus’ Classical videos! Learn about some of the orchestra instruments and sing along in The Orchestra Song.
Here are our biographies:
If you want a parody on sports viewing versus orchestra concert viewing, check out the P.D.Q. Bach version of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, 1st Movement. Hear as “baseball” commentators give a play by play since it is too dark to read the program notes at a concert.
If you’re interested in a project, this site (from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra) has some make-at-home instruments.
For older kids, this is a more in-depth site.
If online games are your thing, check out this site.
For those who may enjoy a hands-on project (a lap book), especially if you are in Classical Conversations, Karen at Wisdom and Righteousness has created three wonderful orchestra lap books (which match the cycles of Classical Conversations) featuring a period of the orchestra (Baroque, Classical, Romantic or Modern) and three composers in those time periods. What I really love about Cycles 1 and 2 are the timelines of orchestral music. Here are the links.
A music timeline is available here.
This is an interesting general music website.
The most valuable way to enjoy classical music is to go to live concerts. Most symphony orchestras offer children’s programs or youth concerts for public or home school groups. Many even offer programs for toddlers and preschool age children. Check out your local orchestras for concerts!
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