Originally conceived as school presentations to expand students’ knowledge of music and increase their interest in musical development, the Mr. McSymphony series has been presented to over 25,000 children in over 16 elementary schools in California, Oregon and Washington. The books and teachers guides that are now available for purchase were written by Stephen Battaglia in response to the suggestions of teachers who wanted to be able to present the same material in their classrooms.
The books are written as though one were speaking to a group of small children. While this makes the information very accessible and understandable to the target audience, it also results in less-than-perfect grammatical structure. The books could use some better editing and improvement in the flow of the information that is presented, but they still make an enjoyable read for the intended 6-11 year-old audience. The books are more of a cursory overview of the subjects, designed to pique the curiosity of their young audience rather than give them a comprehensive education. The content is both educational and interesting, and handy appendices at the back of several of the books provide the teacher with additional listening resources related to the topic of the book. The hand drawn, black and white illustrations are just enough to give readers a visual picture of the information presented on each page and draw the students into the story. Here’s my brief review of each of the books in the series:
Mr. McSymphony’s The Life of a Symphony Orchestra
There is some fascinating information revealed in the pages of this book. For instance, did you know that the word “symphony” comes from two Greek words? “Sym” means “together” and “phony” means “sound.” I never knew that! In this book, Mr. Battaglia gives an overview of each of the instrument families and some of the individual instruments contained therein.
Mr. McSymphony’s Musicians and their Instruments
This book starts by painting a picture of the reality of the hard work and time that musicians have put in to learn their instruments. Various questions directed to the students are scattered throughout all the books and provide a great way to engage students in discussion. Mr. Battaglia goes on to introduce the different types of notes and their values, followed by the treble clef and a brief explanation of how to identify the pitches on it. The reader is then introduced to each of the instrument families and one famous player of one of the instruments in the family.
Mr. McSymphony’s It’s All About Jazz
This books starts with a brief history of Jazz music and then familiarizes the reader with some Jazz terminology. Extra little educational tidbits (like a discussion of heteronyms) are thrown in occasionally throughout all the books. Through the pages of this book, the reader will meet some of the most well-known Jazz musicians and learn a little bit about their lives.
Mr. McSymphony’s It’s All About Opera
Much like It’s All About Jazz, this book begins with a brief history and some of the terms one might hear associated with Opera. Mr. Battaglia goes on to give the reader an idea of what they should expect when attending an Opera, from where to sit to how to understand the storyline. The book concludes with a review of some of the more famous Operas.
Mr. McSymphony’s It’s All About Classical Music
This book introduces the reader to the periods of music history (although I was surprised to see these identified only as Baroque, Classical and Modern Classical) and identifies a few of the composers of each period. There are anecdotal tidbits scattered throughout that students will find quite interesting. For instance, did you know that it would take about 200 continuous hours or 8 days to play all of Mozart’s music? That’s a long time! 🙂
Each of the above books has a corresponding Teacher’s Guide and CD. The Teacher’s Guide contains an overview of the musical excerpts included on the accompanying CD and a story that can be read in conjunction with each piece.
You can purchase a set of the Mr. McSymphony books for use in your studio or classroom by contacting Stephen Battaglia:
37593 Pineknoll Ave.
Palm Desert, CA 92211
The five-set book series costs $37.45 and the five-set Instructor Guides with CDs cost $53.60. Shipping is included in the price.
Check back tomorrow for an exclusive interview with Stephen Battaglia, author of the Mr. McSymphony series.