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Classical Kids

Thursday’s Blog

Thursday, May 7, 2009

St. Nicholas CathedralTchaikovsky Discovers America If he was alive today, Tchaikovsky would be 169 years old!  He was born on May 7, 1840 in a small provincial town in Russia.  He grew up to become one of the world’s most well-loved composers.  Tchaikovsky’s record sales have consistently been second only to those of Beethoven in the classical world.


Architecture Russian Architecture is as sumptuous as its music.  Tourists are always overwhelmed by the beauty of the Summer Palace just outside St. Petersburg. Look online at this multi-layer wedding-cakeof sparkling fountains and yellow, white and gold architecture.  In contrast, the St. Nicholas Cathedral (left) is lovely for its quiet Russian blues and whites.  Notice its neo-Classical symmetry and the decorative sunburst above the main entrance.

Tchaikovsky’s house near Moscow in Klin – Photo Credit: Bojan Brecelj/IPAK ImagesHome Sweet Home Everyone’s house says much about them. In this photo (right), we see many features to keep the composer warm as he worked in his living room: thick rugs, lamps, drapes and a fireplace.  If someone saw your bedroom, what could they learn about you? [credit: IPAK]


Laura Fernandez and Rick Jacobson are the illustrators for the book version of Tchaikovsky Discovers America.


Nutcracker and Storytelling You might wonder why there is a picture of Carnegie Hall (below on the left) in a blog about a Russian composer.  The answer is that Tchaikovsky was asked to open Carnegie Hall in 1891, around the time he was writing his famous The Nutcracker ballet.  Look at the Teacher’s Notes to read about this well-loved Christmas classic and enjoy its activities.  Can you tell the story of the The Nutcracker?


Carnegie HallSwan LakeDance The story of Swan Lake (left) is a great fairy tale.  It streams with white and black swans, an owl, princesses and princes.  Tchaikovsky made it famous with some of his greatest music.  If you love trombones and brass, you’ll love Swan Lake!  Dance to a movement from The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake.


Visual Arts How does the child's picture below capture elements of the story from Tchaikovsky Discovers America?  Listening to the CD, pick a scene and paint what you ‘see’ in your head.


Child's picture inspired by Tchaikovsky Discovers America CDLive Shows Over the years, more than 1 million children and their families have enjoyed the acclaimed Classical Kids Symphony Concerts.  These theatrically staged productions combine local symphonies with traveling actors to bring alive the music of the great composers. The touring shows include Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage, Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery and Tchaikovsky Discovers America.  For more information or to book a show, please contact Paul Pement at


On a Personal Note Have a wonderful summer.  I’ll be performing, traveling and writing for the next few months, but will return in the fall.  Send any comments or drawings along and we’ll post them.

Contact Sue by clicking here. 

Classical Kids

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery: old CD cover
March – An Important Classical Month

Classical radio programmers have little difficulty filling their programs in March because this month celebrates two birthdays and an important death.

  • Vivaldi was born on March 5, 1678
  • Bach was born on March 31, 1685
  • Beethoven died on March 26 (today) in 1827

Vivaldi This (right) is the cover art for the initial release of Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery.  It’s a Canaletto painting of the Basin in front of St. Mark’s Square during Europe’s most famous Carnival.  Talk about Mardi Gras, the boats and masks – then make an art project based on the costumes, architecture or period medallion.  Three are lots of authentic Venetian masks online.  Go explore!

Basilica San MarcoSan Marco This picture (left) is the famous Basilica San Marco. The exterior and interior are covered with 1300 mosaics of gold.  Each tells a story from the Bible.  As few people could read at this time, these pictures taught the events in Christ’s life.  Make a mosaic with colored paper.

Science Under the floor of this great church, the tides slosh in and out between the wooden tree trunks that hold up the whole city. Most are now over 400 years old, so the floor is uneven like the great piazza outside.  Go to the Teacher’s Notes and talk about how to save a sinking city.

Organ in Arnstadt ChurchBach was born just seven years after Vivaldi, but he lived in Germany rather than Venice.  To the right is an organ he actually played in Arnstadt when he was quite young.  Notice the simple interior, very unlike San Marco and the cathedrals in earlier blogs.  Organs have literally thousands of pipes, all of which need individual tuning.  Listen to Track 3 of the Mr. Bach Comes to Call CD where Bach describes “the beautiful organ – It’s like playing music on a skyscraper!”

Bach statue outside St. Thomas ChurchEvery year, thousands of tourists go to Leipzig to where Bach spent the latter half of his life.  This imposing statue outside the St. Thomas Church (left) captures the strength of this musical giant.

Beethoven Below is the cover to the book version of Beethoven Lives Upstairs. Beethoven was often seen striding around the parks and woods outside Vienna.  In this scene, Christoph accompanies him.  A storm descends that is musically captured in his famous 6th Symphony.  Listen to Track 10 and describe how music can create a storm.  Invent instruments or noisemakers to play along and imitate the wind, thunder and rain.Beethoven Lives Upstairs book cover

See you next month!

Sue Hammond

Contact Sue by clicking here.

Next Blog: Thursday, May 7, 2009

Classical Kids

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Durham Cathedral

New Millenniums Most of us were here to celebrate the arrival of 2000 AD.  Let’s now cast our mind back a full thousand years to 1000 AD.  Europe was just emerging from the Dark Ages, and great cathedrals were soon to rise above humble towns.

Ruins of Bolton AbbeyAlthough some cities were growing, most Europeans lived in small communities under the arching branches of ancient forests.  They lived a subsistence existence – foraging, hunting, and trying to avoid the terrible diseases carried by foul water.

The Story The Song of the Unicorn combines the French myth of the unicorn with the English legend about King Arthur.  The story is about two children venturing into the forest to find the unicorn and cure their mother.  It’s a great story full of strange-sounding instruments, and a compelling mystery guided by Merlin disguised as an owl. As it begins,

Early sheet musicOnce upon a time, a young Queen fell mysteriously ill… One day, an owl flew in her window and looked down upon her, saying “Only the touch of the unicorn can cure the Queen”.

The Teacher’s Notes to this CD are rich in medieval riddles, chivalry, castle life, castles, and myths.  In another posting, we’ll talk more about these.  But here, we’ll focus on the music and art of this vital period.

Tapestry of man with basketSinging Some famous songs come down to us from this period in England – Greensleeves, Early One Morning, the Riddle Lullaby (“I gave my love a cherry without a stone”) and Sumer is icumen in (Summer is coming around).  Sing them, and choreograph these lovely melodies.

Art In many ways, medieval art soared ahead of music because musicians had not yet discovered how to write down notes until the 1100s.  Similarly Gutenberg’s mass printing press was not invented until the 1400s.

Horse and knight tapestryAnimal Power You’ll notice that many of the tapestries from this era have animals in them.  Many medieval people believed that birds and animals had special magical powers.

Project Horses were part of everyday life, so we often find them pictured in tapestries and illuminated manuscripts.  Draw a medieval picture including exotic flowers, animals (horses, rabbits, birds, lions, and unicorns), castles and people in everyday life.  OR design a coat of arms similar to the knight’s with some family symbol such as ravens, fish or wheat sheaves. 

Notice also the coat of arms with birds on it, then design a medieval tapestry including animals, decorative flowers, and coats of arms.

Enjoy the Medieval Period and see you next month!

Sue Hammond

Contact Sue by clicking here.

Next Blog: Thursday, March 26, 2009

Classical Kids

Archived Blogs:

Sue Hammond's Thursday Blog: December 2008 January 2009

Sue Hammond's Thursday Blog: December 2008 December 2008

Sue Hammond's Thursday Blog: November 2008 November 2008