Tag Archive | music

Partying Mozart-Style

Apparently, not many people throw “Magic Flute” parties, as in, the opera by Mozart.  From what I can tell, parties centered on Mozart himself are not too common either.  At least, if they exist, they don’t get broadcast in the internet world.

Well, Drama Queen has never been one to stick with the norm, and she decided that her 7th birthday party should be based on Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”  To be precise, she prefers the children’s version by Classical Kids, “Mozart’s Magical Fantasy.”  I’m a big fan of copying other people’s ideas that I find on the internet, but they just weren’t out there for this one.  Therefore, I’m posting photos from her party just in case someone else out there is just weird enough to throw a Magic Flute party.


Some of you may be like I was four months ago and not know what this Magic Flute thing is.  It was the last opera Mozart wrote, prior to his death only months later.  “Mozart’s Magical Fantasy” is a modified version of the real thing.  It begins with a girl named Sarah visiting an orchestra during a dress rehearsal of the “Magic Flute”.  She is specifically there because her mom is playing the part of the Queen of the Night.  However, the lights go out, the “rehearsal” begins, and Sarah is swept up into the story.  She uses her flute to defeat a dragon who is attacking the prince, Tamino.  (In the real version, there is no Sarah, and the dragon is killed right away.  In this version, the dragon is shrunk and becomes quite the scaredy-cat – a good comic-relief character.)  A bird-calling man dressed in feathers (another comic-relief character) named Papagino enters the story, and they all go off to find princess Pimena.  Her mother is the Queen of the Night, who turns out to actually be the “bad guy” of the tale.  The scorcerer Sarastro, who the Queen of the Night has portrayed as the evil abductor of her daughter, turns out to be the kind, benevolent father-figure.  Tamino has to face challenges to win his love, Pamina, during which Sarah’s magic flute is very helpful.  Papagino finds his true love, Papagina, and Sarah and the dragon sing their own song to each other about the journey being over.  (That’s the song my kids go around the house singing the most.)


Since I couldn’t find much specifically in terms of Mozart or Magic Flute, I went with a general music note theme.  That, of course, had lots of ideas online.  I found this colorful party plate set, called Dancing Music, on Birthday in a Box, which was perfect for us.


For food, I used music note cookie cutters for cheese and jello, made sandwiches to (kind of) resemble piano keys, and arranged veggies as an eighth note.  (Okay, so there’s not actually a piano in “The Magic Flute,” but Mozart was an accomplished pianist, so it works!)

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You can see my centerpiece there as well.  It was simply the CD, along with a Mozart bio and a Magic Tree House book based on the story.  We bought that little Mozart finger puppet recently when we went to an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra production of “Tchaikovsky Discovers America” – another from the Classical Kids collection.  I gave The Brain the task of finding a way to make it stand, and this was his humorous solution.


We didn’t do much with decorations.  Mr. BANG and Drama Queen hung up streamers everywhere (two rolls for $1 at Dollar Tree), and I hung up a couple things from the Dancing Music set.  (The next day, while walking across a parking lot downtown, Drama Queen commented out-of-the-blue, “Happy treble clef Birthday.  I love that!” lol)

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I always like to have fun with my kids’ birthday cakes.  I’ve made a construction truck scene, a train, and a pirate ship, among others.  To be clear, I’ve never taken any classes and don’t particularly have any skill in cake decorating. (My pirate ship completely fell apart, so I made up the story that Hook had tried to shoot cannon balls at Peter Pan but it backfired, destroying his own ship.  The kids loved it!)  But I just have fun with it and don’t worry about perfection.  I give my kids lots of examples to prove their mom is not perfect!


I thought through how to make this cake.  Again, I normally just copy other people’s cakes – I’m not so creative myself – but there was nothing for me to copy this time.  I finally decided to make kind of a swirling staff with notes like on our plates, and just have a toy dragon and fondant flute sitting on top.  Again, it’s nowhere near perfect, but Drama Queen absolutely LOVED it, and that’s what matters!  Plus, all the little boys at her party thought it was super cool that she had a dragon on her cake!  (Only one other family knew the Magic Flute story at all.  Drama Queen and Mr. BANG had planned with those two sisters to put on a play of it for the other kids, but unfortunately, of all things, their car broke down and they weren’t able to make it!)


For party favors we gave them recorders, pencils with flute pictures on them, music note stickers, and some random things from my “treasure box” left over from my public school teaching days a decade ago!  My kids’ poor friends are going to be getting those in every goody bag and Easter egg hunt until they’re teenagers!  Oh, I also got some free personalized merchandise with my order, so I got these cute personalized magnets for some of the guests.

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As for special activities and games and creative, fun crafts…I don’t do those.  I’m a big fan of sending the kids outside to play – they come up with plenty of fun on their own without me interfering!  This year we did actually rent bouncies for the first time.  Drama Queen had been asking for a party at a local bouncy house, and we had told her she could do that as her present from us.  Then The Brain had the brilliant idea to use the same amount of money to rent bouncies at our house.  That way, we could do it anytime we wanted and invite as many people as we wanted, and let the party last as long as we wanted!  (From the first family’s arrival to the last family’s departure was about 4.5 hours!)

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The only theme related activity was that I had some coloring sheets set out: a dragon, music notes, a flute, and a girl playing a flute.  A few kids did have fun coloring those pictures.


We also did our annual Montessori birthday walk.  I gave her the choice this year if she wanted to do it or not.  She said she did because “it’s a special part of having a birthday.”  It’s fun each year having new friends who are so curious about the whole thing, and older friends who are eager to explain what it all represents.


Another successful birthday party in the books! (and on the blog…)




Music Study: What Instrument Do You Hear?

My kids are obsessed with Paul Dukas’ piece The Scorcerer’s Apprentice.  You know, that Mickey Mouse cartoon in Fantasia where the brooms end up flooding the room?  You didn’t know it was by a guy named Paul Dukas?  Never heard of him even?  Me neither.  Until my kids got obsessed.

It started a year and a half ago when we were visiting my brother in Texas.  During our drive from his house in Austin to another brother’s house in the Dallas area, Drama Queen got to ride with her cousin.  And apparently one thing her cousin likes to listen to in the car is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  She immediately started talking about it, singing it, and, of course, acting it out.  It had captured her so much, I decided to introduce her to the Fantasia version.  Of course, that just made her (and Mr. BANG) even more enthralled.

We watched the video a lot, and acted it out even more.  Finally I bought something I had had on my wish list for quite awhile:  Maestro Classic’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  This particular CD is awesome because in addition to having two beautiful recordings of the piece, with and without narration, it includes the history of the tale, a version performed by a drum and bugle corps, the conductor explaining themes in the piece, and some other features.  I can tell you, we have listened to this CD a LOT!  I think all three of us have every bit of it memorized.  (I later learned it was that same CD which she had been listening to on the road trip with my brother and nephew.)

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

So, one day I had an idea.  I set them up with our musical instrument cards and Bingo chips in front of a You Tube video I found of an orchestra performance of the piece.  For each instrument they saw, they got to put a Bingo chip on the corresponding instrument card.  They absolutely LOVED this!  They were so eager to place their Bingo chips, frequently calling out the instrument’s name while doing so.

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After playing that video a couple times, I switched to Fantasia’s cartoon version.  This time, as they heard an instrument, they placed a chip on the corresponding card.  This, of course, was more difficult for them, but they absolutely loved it, and recognized a surprising number of instruments.

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We have only done this activity with this one piece so far, but it could easily be done with any number of pieces.  In fact, we have just started a study on Beethoven (I cannot tell you how excited Drama Queen is about this!!), so I imagine we’ll be doing the same activity with his 9th Symphony or another piece very soon!

Book Review: Biographies of art and music

Both within the Charlotte Mason and the Montessori worlds, there is an emphasis on exposing children to beautiful things.  One large aspect of that is allowing them to experience the works of famous artists and musicians.

In our home, we focus on one musician and one artist each semester.  This semester, we chose Bach as our composer, simply because one of my friends was doing a Bach presentation at a local school at the very beginning of the semester.  She invited us to attend that presentation, where we were able to learn facts about his life and listen to some of his music.  She also sent us home with a CD of some of his pieces.  Drama Queen and Mr. BANG absolutely love listening to the CD during meals, and also prefer for me to have a picture of him for them to see as they listen.  (I just pull up a picture on my computer and set it where they can see.)

Our artist this month is Georgia O’Keefe simply because Montessori Print Shop had free O’Keefe nomenclature cards at the beginning of the semester, and I had previously purchased a calendar of her paintings which meant I had some of her artwork on hand. (January and February are perfect times to get discounted artist calendars.)  I let each child choose one painting from the calendar to display in each of their bedrooms, and put the others up in the playroom, their bathroom, and the hallway connecting their bedrooms.

   The nomenclature cards

I also definitely wanted to include some child-appropriate biographies to allow us into O’Keefe’s and Bach’s lives a little bit.  l had previously discovered a series of composer biographies that are wonderful.  My first experience with these books, by Anna Harwell Celenza, was a book about Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” my own favorite piece of music as a child.  The book tells the story of how that particular piece of music was written and then introduced to the public.  It came with a CD of that piece, so we could listen and pick out the aspects of the music that were described in the book.

This time, I knew to go to her for a book about Bach, and she didn’t fail me.  I purchased her book, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which tells the story of a young boy, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who played harpsichord for Bach’s friend, Count Keyserlingk.  The Count gave Goldberg a new musical challenge each week, and the boy worked hard to find or write an appropriate piece and practice it until he was ready to play it perfectly for the count.  One day, the Count asked for a piece that was “filled with dances and difficult runs.  It must also have canons and something quite new.  A surprise that will trick me – how about a riddle?”  In despair, Goldberg went to his teacher, Bach, who pulled out a piece he had already written, which fit the bill perfectly.  (Bach’s name for the piece was “A Keyboard Practice Consisting of an Aria with Thirty Variations for the Harpischord.”  You can see why the name “Goldberg Variations” is the one that stuck!)  The book also comes with a CD of the piece.


Celenza herself is a music professor at Georgetown University.  She has written 6 children’s books (the most recent was released this year, so hopefully she’ll write more!), telling the stories of pieces by Duke Ellington, Beethoven, Mussorgsky, and Haydn, in addition to Bach and Gershwin.

The other fabulous series that I’ve discovered is both written and illustrated by Mike Venezia.  My children absolutely LOVE his books, because in addition to pulling together an interesting short biography of the person, he includes funny cartoons throughout the books.  We have the ones for Bach and O’Keefe, but he has written nearly 50 biographies of artists, 14 biographies of composers, 43 biographies of U.S. Presidents, and 16 biographies of inventors and scientists.

Johann Sebastian Bach includes portraits of Bach, some of his family members (including one of him playing harpsichord with many of his numerous children around him), and places he lived.  Venezia tells about Bach’s musical family (more than 70 of his relatives were professional musicians), his early experiences (he got a good job as a violist in a royal court, but also had to remove slop from the kitchen every morning), and several of the different jobs Bach had during his lifetime.


Georgia O’Keefe includes pictures of many of her paintings, as well as a couple of photos of O’Keefe herself.  Venezia describes what types of paintings O’Keefe liked to make and what inspired her.  He tells about the different places she lived, and how each impacted her artwork.  He also walks through the development of her relationship of photographer Alfred Stieglitz, whom she eventually married.  And, of course, it has plenty of silly cartoons!


If you know of other great biographies for children, please share!

Side Benefits of a Church’s Children’s Program

Obviously this isn’t the main purpose of church, but it can be such a great supplement to homeschooling!  The children get a lot of fun and age-appropriate biblical teaching, of course, but other than that, they get so many other great opportunities!

One of the main homeschooling myths is that homeschooled children don’t have opportunities to develop social skills.  That’s a whole different post, but in terms of this particular post, I will state that church is a wonderful opportunity for children to make friends, practice sorting through conflicts with peers, respecting authority other than Mom and Dad, and learn group behaviors such as standing in line and following teacher directions in a group context.  Between Sunday morning church, Wednesday evening church activities, my Thursday morning women’s Bible study, and my regular MOPS meetings, Drama Queen and Mr. BANG have up to four opportunities a week to spend time developing social skills with a core group of children.  (And love it every time!)

Another great opportunity is making fun crafts and artwork.  I must admit, I’m not a craft person.  As they get older and are able to do crafts more independently, we’ll definitely incorporate that type of thing into our homeschool curriculum more.  At this point, though, I mainly let them do open-ended artwork with a variety of materials:  paint, colored pencils, finger paint, crayons, collage, etc.

The projects Drama Queen did this weekend at church were really neat, and would be easy to do at home.  (Which I don’t have to do because she had the opportunity to do them at church! 🙂 )  The first is a picture of Jesus walking on the water, approaching the disciples stuck out on the sea in a big storm.  The cool thing, though, is that Jesus is made into a popsicle stick puppet, which the child can move back and forth through the waves.  What an awesome idea!

The second project she did was make a rainstorm, including lightening.  She said it was from the Noah’s Ark story.  Isn’t it so cute?!

I love that these art projects help the kids be able to retell the Bible stories more easily, but I also just love that they get to have fun experiences with artwork!

My favorite “side benefit” of the children’s program at my church, however, is the children’s choir.  When Drama Queen started children’s choir this fall, she was very hesitant about it.  When I picked her up afterward, though, she was positively giddy!  She kept asking, “Do I get to go to choir again?!  Did you sign me up for choir?!”  She loves it!  So at first, I was simply pleased that she was having a positive experience with learning some music skills.  Then I saw one of the older children’s choirs perform in church.  I was BLOWN AWAY!!  These children were precise in their pronunciations, had perfect mouth formations, and were very crisp in their cut-offs.  I loved watching their director – she wasn’t just moving her arms up and down and mouthing the words, she was directing!  It was without doubt the best church children’s choir I’ve ever seen.  In my mind, it compared to the auditioned children’s choir my baby brother was in as a child – and that was a choir which performed in Carnegie Hall!

I was prepared to pay for my children to be in some type of class where they can get some solid music instruction.  Now I’m thrilled to learn that they’ll get such a fabulous musical experience for FREE at church!!

What about you?  If you’re part of a church, do you feel like your children experience great “side benefits” in terms of instruction you might not feel equipped to give them on your own?  If you’re not part of a church, do you have another type of community organization that provides similar “side benefits” for free?