Perlmutter scores win No. 2 with 'Beethoven's Wig 2' By Fred KochWho knew classical music could be fun, entertaining and educational at the same time? There are probably some folks so highbrow that they feel something is compromised when the classics are not delivered in their full-length original form. Thankfully, there have been musicians, conductors and composers who have found ways to serve up a palatable plate of classical music for children.
I fondly remember Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts" (still available on VHS from Amazon.com) because of the flair and passion he exhibited for the music. And because Bernstein was such a gifted teacher, he could make classical music and the orchestras come alive for children. Interestingly, Bernstein once said his "Young People's Concerts" were "among my favorite, most highly prized activities of my life."
I am also convinced that classics such as "Peter and the Wolf" and "Carnival of the Animals" always will be appropriate and meaningful for children because they are first and foremost great music masterfully crafted for the ears of children.
So this month, I want to share two ways to bring symphonic music a little closer to your children.
BEETHOVEN'S WIG 2: MORE SING ALONG SYMPHONIES, by Richard Perlmutter, Rounder Records, $12.98, www.rounder.com; all ages.
In 2002, we were introduced to the first installment from the creative mind of Richard Perlmutter, "Beethoven's Wig: Sing Along Symphonies," a CD that takes familiar classical pieces and adds zany lyrics. As I wrote in my April 2002 Chicago Parent column, "Imagine the opening passage of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with the lyrics 'Beethoven's wig ... is very big.' Sure it's silly, but that's what I, as a parent and teacher, enjoy about this recording." The same holds true for "Beethoven's Wig 2."
As with the first release, these are fully orchestrated symphonic arrangements-not some cheesy-sounding synthesizers trying to sound orchestral-with clever lyrics layered on top. The lyrics are always connected to either the music or the composer, allowing gentle educational messages to be introduced. And the vocals feature some trained and precise opera singers, male and female, along with Perlmutter, who is charming with his "regular"-sounding voice.
The first cut, "Stuck in the Saddle Again," set to the "Light Cavalry Overture" by Franz von Suppe, had me laughing out loud. In the song, the soldier, no matter how hard he tries, cannot get the old horse to go. Perlmutter's gift shines early as he masterfully weaves a story line that the instrumental music can only suggest. The lyrics and the music blend so well together that if you didn't know better, you would think the music and lyrics were written at the same time.
In the next song, "Sing Verdi Very Loud" ("La donna è mobile" from "Rigoletto"), the secret of becoming a successful opera star is revealed. "Mezzos who've made a name / Tenors of wealth and fame / One and all they have vowed / Sing Verdi very loud." As a teacher, I can't help but think how wonderfully this piece could be used to help introduce children to opera.
My personal favorite might be "It's the Same Every Verse" set to the music of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from the "Peer Gynt Suite" by Edvard Grieg. As the melody is played 17 times, different orchestral instruments are spotlighted along with some valuable music terminology and snippets of information about the composer. Again, the lyrics are so seamlessly woven into the music that children will be swept away with the story and, at the same time, gain some valuable information about the music.
Other highlights include "Schubert's Trout" ("Trout" Quintet) about an encounter with a singing fish, and "Dvorak the Czechoslovak" (Humoresque No. 7), which tells the story of the famous composer. "My Mother Was a Fan" (Prelude 7, Opus 28) recalls a time when mother would sit down at the piano on Sundays to play a prelude by Frederick Chopin. You might never hear Johan Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz" quite the same after you hear "Please Don't Tease the Viennese." You also will enjoy "Musical B's" (Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Johannes Brahms), where students are reminded of all the key composers whose names begin with "B." Other songs include "Don't Play the Violin" (Violin Concerto No. 2, Nicolo Paganini), "It's Spring!" ("Spring" from Antonio Vivaldi's "Four Seasons") and the hilarious "Wow What a Wedding Cake" (Felix Mendelssohn's famous "Wedding March").
In addition to the "Sing Along Symphonies" on tracks one-11, instrumental performances of the pieces are also provided on tracks 12-22 and the CD booklet includes complete lyrics to all the songs. There are also interesting trivia questions about the artists. My favorite is No. 10: "In a test of speed, Paganini was once timed playing how many notes per minute [on the violin]?" Answer: 725, more than 12 notes per second.
Bravo to "Beethoven's Wig 2." Will there be a third? Let's hope so.
CLASSICS FOR KIDS, www.classicsforkids.com; all ages.
Classical music lovers looking for additional ways to expose their children to the music, can check out "Classics for Kids" at www.classicsforkids.com. The Web site is an archive of all the "Classics for Kids" radio programs that have aired on public radio station WGUC-FM in Cincinnati. Children can listen to the well-produced, kid-friendly programs and play interactive music games-all aimed at bringing classical music to life. vFred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, children's musician and producer. His Web site, www.BestChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children's music. The Web site also includes an archive of all Koch's past reviews published in Chicago Parent. Please e-mail notes and comments to email@example.com.