Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Classic Tunes & Tales
Ready-to-Use Music Listening Lessons & Activities for Grades K-8

Classic Tunes and Tales teaches elementary-age students the title and composer of fifty familiar melodies from classical pieces, while introducing fundamental concepts of music theory. Though designed for classroom use, it can be used with no adaptations for a single student.

The fifty lessons are divided into five levels (Level I = grades K-2, etc.). Each lesson begins with a largely unnecessary (once you've done a piece or two) lesson plan, followed by a brief explanation of the piece and introduction to the composer. At the end of each lesson are one or more activities for learning concepts ranging from tempo (Level I) to duple, triple, and compound meters (Level V). The core of the lesson, though, is the musical excerpt, simplified to the point that even an untaught duffer like myself can plunk it out on a piano or keyboard, together with lyrics.

Lyrics! Yes. The key to this curriculum--which will either amuse or horrify you--is the putting of words to each melody which help the student remember the name of the piece, the composer, and some aspect of the music. For instance: call to mind the familiar melody to the Largo from Dvorak's New World Symphony. Now:
Lar-go means - very slow
By - D-vor-ak
He wrote - the "New World" sym-phony
for - Amer-ica.
Or--and you will know immediately what the tune is here--
Toreador Song written by Bizet
From - an op-era
Carmen was its name.
Takes - place in the nineteenth century
Spain's bullfighter escapade
A soldier falls in love
and Carmen too
A tragic op-er-a.
Admittedly, this can be a painful exercise for the teacher. But I have to tell you, they remember the music. Certainly there's a risk that the child will resent you when he's thirty and attending Don Giovanni and finds that, while everyone else has "La ci darem la mano" going through their heads, all he can think is "Mozart he wrote an opera - called Don Giovanni - the ghost shook the hand of Giovanni - and that awful man was gone in a blink." You'll just have to weigh that against the increased odds that the grown child will be buying tickets for the opera, or symphony, in the first place.

You do need a keyboard of some sort, no matter how primitive, for Classic Tunes & Tales. However, contrary to the complaints of Amazon commenters, it doesn't actually require recordings of the full musical pieces. And at any rate, this is the 21st century; you don't need to pay $14.95 for a CD of Dvorak when you can pay $.99 to download the Largo only.

As with so many excellent curricular items, Classic Tunes & Tales is out of print, and the Amazon sellers offer it for exorbitant prices. A quick Googling however will turn up prices much less than the original $28.95.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: The Educator Classic Library

Not your ordinary series of illustrated children's classics. Released in 1968, this set of twenty books is unabridged, hardily bound, and in an 8" x 11" hardcover format that lies open easily on a child's lap. The Educator Classic Library's unique feature, though, is a 2 1/2" outside margin on each page, in which challenging vocabulary is defined, explained, and often illustrated.

These marginalia add a new depth to each book. In chapter 27 of The Virginian, we read "Till Yesterday a Crow Indian war-bonnet had hung next it, a sumptuous cascade of feathers." In the margin, a picture of such a war-bonnet, and the note: "War bonnets were worn only by the Plains Indians, and among them only by a few, most honored men. Each eagle feather represented an award by the tribal council. Individual feathers worn in the hair were marked to show what the deed was that they honored.

Below that, drawings of four feathers with different markings, showing "Killed an Enemy," "Cut Enemy's Throat," "Cut Throat and Scalped Enemy," and "Many Wounds." How did I go for over forty years without having learned this stuff? Similarly, one reads Black Beauty and acquires an encyclopedic knowledge of tack and other horsey stuff, and Captains Courageous brings an easy familiarity with nautical jargon that Patrick O'Brian fans would envy. Besides specialized vocabulary, ordinary words likely to be new to young readers receive quick and clear definitions in the margin.

Poking around at the usual places for obtaining out-of-print books, one discovers that most extant copies are described as "Acceptable" or "Reading Quality," the battered-but-intact condition of the books being a testimony to their having been well loved. Ours aren't getting any nicer.


5 Off-the-top-of-my-head best children's animated films

1. Miyazaki's Spirited Away.

2. Rocky & Bullwinkle (I didn't say feature films).

3. Jan Svankmajer’s Alice. The best version of Alice in Wonderland, ever.

3a. Svankmajer’s Faust. Eschews Goethe and goes directly to the European tradition of the Faust marionette plays.

4. Wallace and Gromit, Curse of the Were Rabbit.

5. Shakespeare, The Animated Tales. Again, not feature films, but beautiful and original pieces (using the original language, not rephrased) by talented Russian directors and animators.

Update: Eudoxus adds Lotte Reiniger's 1926 silhouette animation film The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Check it out (excerpt):

Friday, July 15, 2011

Comments Enabled

Sorry about the previous limitation of comments to "Team Members" only. This has been fixed. Back to deleting spam.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: Thor, in 3D

This is what happens when you have a Wee Girl who cannot be babysat by anyone, and a Great Girl who has only that one evening free to watch her sisters while you and husband go out to Alamo Drafthouse, the go-to place for all Austin parents who only have time for dinner-and-a-movie if they happen at the same time. You look at the listings, decide that Thor in 3D is the least bad offering, and off you go.

First, the 3D-ness. This was my first 3D movie of the new sort, and it was fairly cool at first (though glasses on top of my already necessary glasses isn't entirely comfortable); but after a while I just stopped noticing the effect. It was like when THX came out--remember "The Audience Is Listening"?-- and it sounded so fantastic compared to plain stereo ... for a while ... and now when I mention THX to people younger than me, they generally have no idea that the sound in the theater is anything special, because they're used to it. It took me about twenty minutes to reach THX-in-the-21st-century level with 3D. In fact, I only tended to notice it when it worked badly, as in the cavern-world scene, where foregrounded stalactites and stalagmites formed a flat frame at the front of the stage, very much like a theatrical set.

So. Plot? Caution: spoilers ahoy. Benevolent all-Father god sends his beloved Son to earth as a mere mortal. Son offers up his life to save humanity, upon which he is returned to life by his Father's decree, takes on his divine power, and defeats the very enemy that thought it had vanquished him. It's not a plot I remember from the Eddas and sagas, but perhaps it was in something else.

Now here's the thing that mesmerized me through the entire movie. Except for the CGI scenes set in Asgard and cavern-world, the whole thing was filmed in New Mexico. With, presumably, New Mexican extras. Now since the crew was actually in New Mexico, it cannot have escaped their attention that New Mexico is nearly 50% Hispanic (not to mention 10% Indian). I've spent a lot of time in New Mexico, and it immediately struck me that every single person on the screen was Anglo. Now it was northern New Mexico, which is a little more Anglo than the south, but still heavily Hispanic. Not a single Hispanic face, in the foreground, in the background, anywhere. One scene shows farmers from all around coming to see the thing embedded in the meteorite in the crater: centuries of Hispanic farmers in New Mexico, and yet somehow all the farmers in New Mexico-under-Asgard are Anglo rednecks, played for laughs. One extensive scene is in a hospital. Now medical work in New Mexico, from doctors to orderlies, is very Hispanic (see, for instance, the hospital my Opinionated Self was born in). Somehow Thor manages to be taken to the only hospital in the state with a completely Anglo staff.

What was up with this? Maybe they figured Asgard is going to be populated by Nordic types, reasonably enough, and they don't want to draw anyone's attention to this by providing alternatives on-screen. But then why film it all in New Mexico? Oh and by the way, not a single sign, street sign or advertisement or hospital sign, is in Spanish. Maybe it's not worth going on and on about, but it distracted me through the entire movie, and I still can't figure out the motivation.

So, Thor in 3D. Meh. And, ???
Happiness Through Acquisition (or, Maazel Tov!)

One of the great blessings/curses in my life is the discard store for our city's public library. It's five minutes drive from my house, and is open Thursday through Sunday, making it the perfect "We've finished the week's lessons, let's go book-shopping!" destination. And all children's books, no matter what, are 50 cents each. And it's free air conditioning (today's high will be 103), in comfy chairs, reading books--they don't even mind if you bring your book from home!--while the children lounge on the giant stuffed panther in the children's area, reading away. Friday afternoon at three, you know where to find me.

And occasionally they have real finds. Last Friday, I lucked into four 2-CD sets of operas for one measly dollar each: La Fanciulla Del West (with Placido Domingo), Cavalleria Rusticana (Maria Callas), Die Fledermaus (Kiri Te Kanawa), and--I could hardly believe this--the original CD of Maazel's Porgy and Bess. Which last is on the stereo right now, in all its glorious sound, while Wee Girl works her way through The Littles and Middle Girl does air pressure experiments in the kitchen. A little homeschooling picture postcard are we (or would be if I would get off the computer and go do something worthy).
Just Like One of Those SAT Analogies

Eudoxus and I just about fell of the bed when the manager described the attack: "The kid was in mid-air, flying. Like a Spartan from 300. Except he was a banana."

When Middle Girl gets to the Battle at Thermopylae, this is so going to be in my head.