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Nanushka, A Russian Children's Story and The Brementown Musicians, A Tale with Music Review by Katherine Tanyu

Music and Narrative

A few years ago, as a newly pregnant woman, my mother gifted me with speakers to play music to my unborn child. I am not familiar with the specific studies correlating IQ to classical music. However, many of us homeschool parents can agree that introducing music appreciation at an early age is an excellent education to impart to our children.

Ina Allen, the founder of Music and Narrative, had the same thinking. She was a young mother who wanted her children to enjoy and appreciate classical music. She was also mainly dissatisfied with what was available in the libraries. It is important to note that Ina is an incredibly talented pianist. She mentioned that children have more fun listening to music when they are interwoven with stories from their website. And so, she found other gifted people to work with (pianist Barbara Kemp, narrators Chris Potts and John Pruessner) and produced this wonderful collection of classical musical storytelling.

The Brementown Musicians, A Tale with Music and Nanushka, A Russian Children's Story with Music are audiobooks that can be individually downloaded as a soft copy MP3 (USD 9 each) via Music and Narrative's website or bought as a hard copy CD (USD 12 each).

Our homeschool consists of lots of reading aloud and talking (my kindergartener is quite the chatterbox!), so these audiobooks were a welcome addition--I could rest my throat even for a few minutes. I told my five-year-old we were going to listen to the Brementown Musicians story from the computer. He knew this story already from our repeated readings of his book. At first, he was adamant. "I want YOU, Mama, to read it for me." I explained that we would just try listening to it, and if he did not like it, I would stop the audiobook immediately. When I saw the story was relatively short, I thought to myself, "short enough!" as I hoped it would keep him interested.

I knew the story forward and backward, but noticing a change at the beginning of the narration, I was immediately intrigued. In the version we have read many times before, there was no "old man." So, I thought, is this not the Brementown Musicians? And then I heard the familiar animals like the donkey, which made me listen closely for the next few minutes. The piano accompaniments played by Ina Allen gave me a happy surprise. I did not expect them at all! The music is familiar, and the story using the piano gave it a sense of home.

Being continually active, my little boy kept asking how many minutes were left. So in between listening, we would check the time bar at the button. Despite this, I saw him lying on the floor for a few minutes with his head resting on a pillow. Even for that extremely brief time, I knew he was listening to the music and the narrative. We have read about different classical composers before, but I did not have much success in getting him to try listening to their pieces.

I have not heard of the tale of Nanushka before. I wished the digital download included a copy of the script (with the names of the compositions), so I could follow exactly along. Young children exposed to audiobooks early on would greatly benefit from this compilation. But visual learners (like me) might appreciate seeing the words in print as well. That said, my ears were tuned more to the music as there were no words to think about intently.

Chris Potts is the narrator of Nanushka, A Russian Children's Story with Music. She is a very versatile voice talent! If I could find one word to describe her way of storytelling, it would be "delicious." Sweet candies and then a platter of afternoon tea were the thoughts that came to my mind when I was listening to her tell the story of Nanushka. The crispness of the Russian names and the way she pronounced them and changed her voice throughout was pleasant like a magical, lilting xylophone.

Our copy is a soft copy MP3. It would be nice if Music and Narrative could include the names of the tracks and their composers (with their pictures) as a download. In our homeschool, we enjoyed looking at the different faces of composers and drawing their faces (at least what we think are to their likeness). The piano music and selections were beautiful. My boy and I enjoyed those. We played pretend piano most of the time. This was our favorite part as we listened to the audiobooks a few more times. I liked that we learned unfamiliar words like "cacophony" and "tetka." My son asked me, "Is cacophony the same as distorted music?" 

I recommend The Brementown Musicians, A Tale with Music to households with young children. The entire production of Nanushka, A Russian Children's Story with Music is applaud-worthy. I hope more audiobooks like this will be released. The hard copy CDs are a thoughtful gift to give to new homeschool parents as a form of encouragement--that they can homeschool any way they want to. I knew I would appreciate it. Tell and play us another story, please!

-Product review by Katherine Marie D. Tanyu, The Old Schoolhouse®, November 2021