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Music Appreciation: Book 2 Collection Review by Michelle Gibson

Music Appreciation for the Middle Grades, Book 2 (Student Book)
Music Appreciation for the Middle Grades, Book 2 LAPBOOK
Frederic Chopin, Early Years
Frederic Chopin, Later Years
Robert Schumann and Mascot Ziff
Adventures of Richard Wagner
Stephen Foster and His Little Dog Tray
The Young Brahms
The Story of Peter Tchaikovsky
Peter Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker Ballet
Edward MacDowell and His Cabin in the Pines
Elisabeth Tanner, Judy Wilcox, and Opal Wheeler et al
Zeezok Publishing
PO Box 1960
Elyria, OH 44036

Have you been looking for a high-quality music appreciation course that is interesting, interactive, and engaging?  Zeezok Publishing offers such a program with a series exposing children to famous composers from history. These collections with their biographical approach will surely engage your students to bring these eras of music alive.

Music Appreciation: Book 2 Collection is for the middle grades and includes nine composer biographies:

  • Frederic Chopin, Early Years
  • Frederic Chopin, Later Years
  • Robert Schumann and Mascot Ziff
  • Adventures of Richard Wagner
  • Stephen Foster and His Little Dog Tray
  • The Young Brahms
  • The Story of Peter Tchaikovsky
  • Peter Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker Ballet
  • Edward MacDowell and His Cabin in the Pines

These biographies are the heart of this curriculum. Each composer’s childhood and adult life are vividly described with important life events in these true stories. Each biography is full of fascinating history, beautiful black and white illustrations, and written compositions from each composer. The program is $166.99 (as of May, 2018).

In addition to the nine composer biographies, this collection includes the Music Appreciation for the Middle Grades, Book 2 Student Book. The student book is a workbook and a textbook combined with activity pages that contain comprehension questions, character qualities, tidbits of interest, relevant vocabulary words, recipes, geography lessons, history lessons, music lessons, and much more.

Throughout the lessons, you’ll find Activity Alerts directing you to add to your Composers lapbook as well as App Alerts with a QR Code to scan, often leading to a video, a website, or an interactive quiz to enhance your experience. What I especially loved about this collection is the easy access to all the songs from the biographies — no more popping in a CD to find a track — you just scan the QR code using your own app or one of the recommended QR code reading apps.

The Music Appreciation for the Middle Grades, Book 2 Lapbook, sold separately for $15.99, includes a full-color printed lapbook. A coloring book ($8.99) is also available with over 70 coloring pages, two for each chapter in the composer biographies.

Students are also encouraged to create their own journal notebook for more hands-on learning, and the student book includes writing prompts.

The Music Appreciation: Book 2 Collection for the Middle Grades Student Book proficiently walks you through how to use the program, and the introduction clearly outlines the components of the course. Additionally, at the beginning of each unit, there is a weekly plan for each composer. I appreciated seeing each unit at a glance.

During our first composer study, we read Frederic Chopin, Early Years and Frederic Chopin, Later Years. For each chapter, we did various activities, such as answering comprehension questions, reading character qualities of the composer, reading tidbits of interest, assembling a lapbook folder, learning pertinent vocabulary words, and more.

I used this with my two middle school aged students, Malachi, 13, and Eliana, 11. In our first week of the curriculum, we read two chapters of Frederic Chopin, Early Years. We took turns reading aloud and asking the comprehension questions. The answers are at the end of the unit, so I found it helpful to bookmark this page to refer to when discussing the questions with my students. There is plenty of room for a student to write their answers in the book, but both my students preferred to do this study as a group, and not independently.

The lessons on character qualities uses character traits from the story. Just in the first chapter, we learn that Fredric Chopin was proud of his heritage, quick-witted, hard-working, independent, and loving, and the examples from the text exemplified these character traits.

The Tidbits of Interest section elaborates on a story from the book and gives more of the history of the life and times of the composer. For example, we learn that Frederic was only seven years old when he submitted an improvised composition — a piece he composed while performing it.

The words for the vocabulary lessons come from the biography itself. The vocabulary words are given along with the definition and page number from the book. For example, “flourish” means to make dramatic, sweeping gestures, and when we look it up on page 25, we can read the word in the story. 

Our study up to this point is on the life of Frederic Chopin, but it widens to include physical and cultural geography lessons and history lessons on Poland with important facts and topics for students to research, a recipe to make a Poppy Seed Cake, and A Brief History of Poland which includes a QR code to watch a visual description of Poland’s history — an exceptional visual tour sure to appeal to any history loving child. 

While learning about Frederic Chopin’s family history, we scanned a QR code to learn about Chopin’s birthplace.

Now comes the fun part for hands-on loving students to assemble the first lapbook activity on Romanticism Facts. The Activity Alert signal nicely alerts you to the optional component.

And if that were not all, we also learn about the six main types of musical notes and rests, what a treble clef and bass clef are, and what a time signature is. Then students mark the counting sequence in a song to apply what they know.

That was all in the first week, which took us two weeks to complete. After we adjusted to the workload, we were able to do one week in one week’s time, but it was often a struggle to accomplish all the reading on top of a full literature-based curriculum. Each week thereafter, we read one to three chapters and explored all the topics. In chapter two, we are given our first journal entry prompt on metaphors in writing.

At the end of each composer unit is a quiz. Conveniently, a QR code links to an online, interactive and graded version of the quiz. The quizzes are short answer, True or False, and a matching section to match musical vocabulary words to their definitions. Numerous musical appreciation standards abound in this program that reaches across the curriculum. 

Our next study in the collection is a 4-week study of Robert Schumann and Mascot Ziff, followed by the other composers in this collection.

While I did this as a group study with my middle school students, I wouldn’t hesitate to hand this to a 7th or 8th grade student to use independently because after the parent and teacher welcome letter in the introduction, it’s written to the student. Furthermore, the workload is appropriate for a middle school student, and while I could see it being written with the homeschool student in mind, any student could use this program.

We are not a very musical family, so it was fun to do this course on our own at home. Furthermore, these books fit in nicely with our literature-based homeschool because they are stories (and much more), and children love stories.

I really loved using the QR codes to access the music, links, etc. The music selections are samples of the original compositions and you can follow along with the written compositions in the biographies. We had fun trying to read the music while we listened.

The only drawback to adding biographies to an already packed literature-based homeschool is that the chapters are long. I had a hard time adding extra reading on top of our regular reading. It took me two weeks to get through one week of the curriculum, initially. But as we got going, we were able to keep up with the recommended pace for the review period, but I would want to take a more leisurely pace moving forward. 

Even so, it worked well in our homeschool. My kids liked to hear the funny stories about Frederic Chopin, and they liked listening to his music in the middle of a chapter which was also a nice little break for me. I felt it was a thorough, well-designed music appreciation course that we all enjoyed.

Our time devoted to this course had us reading, discussing ideas together on the couch, applying what we know with hands-on activities, and listening to music. It is a joy to do such a comprehensive music appreciation course from the comfort of one’s home, so I highly recommend it. But if you have younger students, you might want to start with Music Appreciation Book 1 Collection, designed for the elementary grades, and then move on to Book 2 Collection.

-Product review by Michelle Gibson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May, 2018