Review of The Songs of Hollywood by Philip Furia & Laurie Patterson

The Songs of Hollywood

I can’t think of any other title that would be more appropriate for this book. It might be a plain and simple name, but let me tell you, this book is chock-full of “songs of Hollywood”!

Personally, I love some of those old classic songs and dance numbers that Hollywood incorporated into their 20th century movies (especially “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”). And even though the music style in movies has greatly changed since the “golden age,” I still really enjoy and gravitate toward music/dance movies that are well done and artistic.

Although I didn’t read this book cover to cover, from what I did read, I could tell the authors put many hours of hard work into this project because of the careful attention to detail and timeline. The book includes many, many lyric excerpts  as well as thumbnail pictures off to the side of certain movies-which I believe kept it more intriguing and visually appealing. Along with excerpts and pictures, each chapter includes lots of historical notes about songs, artists, song writers’ perspectives, the movie, the time period, or the entertainment industry itself. The book does reference some not so “golden” incidents from history, so just be aware of that if you pick it up to read.

Songs of Hollywood did delve into some songs and movies that followed the 1920-1950’s era, such as “Mary Poppins” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” but it primarily seemed to track the progression of songs that hit the limelight during the “golden age.”

Like I said, I didn’t read this all the way through, but I enjoyed what I did read and getting a history lesson in one of the biggest industries of our society! If you’re in need of a helpful resource to prepare for a workshop, group class, or are just interested in the evolution of 20th century Hollywood music, The Songs of Hollywood would be a great place to start. At the back, the book has several pages of chapter references, a credits section, a general index, and a song index.

After writing my review, I found this endorsement on the back of the book and wished I had seen it earlier because it would’ve saved me from having to write anything:

The Songs of Hollywood is a brilliantly researched, highly entertaining cornucopia of facts, tracing and defining the evolution of the use of songs in film. It’s a fascinating read, bursting with information about the great songwriters, performers, producers and directors who transformed a novelty gimmick into an art form.”
-Richard M. Sherman, Composer/Lyricist of Marry Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Jungle Book

Review of Tito Puente-Mambo King by Monica Brown

I was halfway through the illustrated children’s book when all of a sudden I thought, This doesn’t sound like a fictional story. Sure enough, once I got to the end of little Tito’s musical journey I discovered he was no fictional character!

Tito Puente – Mambo King by: Monica Brown

In fact, the reader experiences quite a fascinating ride following the life of musician, Ernest Anthony Puente Jr. “King of the Mambo”, with the book’s energy-filled pages and bilingual aspect. (When I first started reading the book and flipped to the first page, I thought it was only in Spanish and had no idea how I was going to review it! …then I saw the English text above the Spanish.)

Tito Puente-Mambo King is very vibrant, faster paced, and quite colorful-wonderful components to keeping a reader (especially a child) engaged in an illustrated story. If it’s artfully done, like this one, I say the more for a child to look at, the better! Plus, on top of it just being a story, you get a music and general history lesson.

At the back of the book, there’s a short biography of Puente Jr. that you can read and learn all sorts of facts about him. And if you’re bilingual, you can even read the biography twice!

I have to say, in spite of not being particularly fond of bilingual children’s books or this style of illustration, my hat is off to Miss Brown for creating such a fun and enjoyable book. It was well done.

Great Composers and Their Music: Lapbook and Biography Sets

Have you seen the collection of composer lapbook and biography sets that Joy Morin, of the Color in My Piano blog, has created and made available in her store? What a fabulous and memorable way to teach music history to students and/or children! Growing up, I loved to create my own lapbooks to document and share the things I had learned in various subject areas, so the prospect of using this approach to teach about composers and their music is very appealing to me.

Joy uses these as the curriculum for her homeschool music appreciation class – a fabulous approach that I think any homeschool family would love! I can also see using them for a summer piano/music camp or even as an ongoing group class theme throughout the year. There are lots of possibilities!

Check Out the 24-Hour Kids Classical Internet Radio Channel

Classical New England has launched a 24-hour Kids Classical Channel with classical music programs specially designed for kids. I was listening to it for a while the other day and caught a broadcast of “The Instruminute” – a short clip of music and information about a musical instrument. This was followed by a rousing performance of The William Tell Overture. What a great resource for parents and kids – and all of us who enjoy listening to and learning about classical music! :-)

Review and Giveaway of Beethoven Who – Family Fun with Music!

From the colorful, eye-catching artwork on the cover to the extensive index at the back, Marcia Washburn has put together a fun and practical resource that is great for parents and teachers alike – Beethoven Who?! This 334 page ebook covers everything from why children should learn music, to an overview of different styles of music, to handy hyperlinks that take you directly to the corresponding terms in the glossary, and lots more.

Coming from a Christian perspective, Marcia includes a multitude of Scripture verses, inspirational quotes, listening suggestions, and full-color pictures. The book would be a great resource for music teachers wanting to plan a music camp, gather ideas for group classes, or just build their own knowledge of the history and elements of music to incorporate it more into their teaching. It is also ideal for a homeschool family looking for a fun, easy-to-use music appreciation curriculum.

Now, for the best part…Marcia has graciously offered to giveaway one copy of the Beethoven Who? curriculum (a $29.99 value) to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing to win. A winner will be chosen using a random number generator on Thursday, September 20 at noon (CST). [Also, if you want to go ahead and purchase a copy, Marcia said that she would be happy to refund the winner for the purchase price if they've already ordered it.]

Music Videos in 1900?!

In doing some research for a curriculum I’m working on for Adventures In Character, I came across this fascinating history of music videos on the PBS Kids website. Sheet music publishers often used music videos (a.k.a. illustrated songs) to boost sheet music sales. It was highly effective. The Little Lost Child, one of the first illustrated songs, sold millions of copies!

This is great information to share with students! And I could see even using it as inspiration for a special project, maybe as part of a composition project where they create a music video to promote their newly composed work…

The 1-Minute Documentary Project

For Travel Tour (a.k.a. Group Class) #5 last night, one of our activities was what I dubbed, “The 1-Minute Documentary Project.” The idea was inspired by the fabulous Videolicious App, and it turned out to be a lot of fun!

I started by coming up with a handful of music-related topics, like a composer or a musical element. The students were grouped in pairs and each pair drew one of the topics. Here’s a rundown of the step-by-step process from that point on:

1. Read/study material about the topic (students were permitted to use any resource in the studio).
2. Select key information to include.
3. Write a 50 second narration.
4. Select and take 4-8 pictures to correlate with the narration.
5. Open Videolicious App.
6. Select General Video.
7. Select previously taken pictures in the order you want them to appear in the video.
8. Film one student saying the narration.
9. Select an excerpt from your music library to play in the background (if the students have time during their research they can find and download a piece of music for this purpose).
10. Preview and publish the video.

In addition to being a lot of fun, the process was educational and provided a great opportunity for the students to work together. There is still plenty of room for improvement in a variety of aspects (especially the direction of some of the pictures!), but I thought they did a good job in a limited time. And we all enjoyed watching the finished documentaries at the end of the class:


Levi and Andrew on Dynamics


Desiree and Hayley on Bartolomeo Cristofori


Amanda and Mercy on Tempo


Lucas and Landon on Key Signatures


Olive and Noelle on Articulation


Tommy on Domenico Scarlatti

Monday Mailbag – Composer Biographies for Students

I have a student that is a very avid reader (girl, 7th grade, homeschooled).  Her mother asked me to compile a list of good biographies or books of composers/music.  She thought that this would help her practicing since she might be more interested in the composer or subject matter.

One of my all-time favorite collection of composer biographies is Ben Lansing’s The Bigwigs of Classical Music (Your student might be interested to know that Ben was homeschooled, too! You can read an interview I did with him here.). A couple of the books I mentioned last week (My Life with the Great Pianists and Lang Lang’s biography) might be of interest as well.

Also, these aren’t books, but the In Search of Beethoven and In Search of Mozart films are very well done and I think would be of interest to a middle school and/or high school student. I also really like and occasionally reference the book Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers by Patrick Kavanaugh. It includes interesting stories, well-written historical information, and a highlight on a character quality exemplified by the featured composers. Honestly, I haven’t read many other biographies of composers or musicians that come to mind, so I’m hoping some others can chime in with suggestions!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Pedagogy Central

When I was at our state music teachers conference this summer another teacher alerted me to this fabulous website that is the brainchild of Dr. Matthew Edwards, another state association member: Pedagogy Central. This is a treasure trove for any piano teacher! Here’s what Dr. Edwards says, “The original idea of this website is to be a place where teachers can shop for music with intelligent search tools, discuss ideas and technique with other teachers, and many other possibilities. At current, however, the site is primarily a resource on Baroque piano literature, and Romantic piano literature…”

There’s already a lot of great information on the site, but it’s definitely a place to bookmark and keep your eye on for further development!