Music Review: The Story of Swan Lake

Photo of the CD cover for The Story of Swan Lake.

Here’s your dichotomy of the day.

For my 4-year-old daughter, I avoid virtually all things princess. And I cringe at the thought of ballet. If it’s stereotypically girly, it’s moderated in our home.

Oh, but then I jump at the chance to review The Story of Swan Lake, the latest release in Maestro Classics’ Stories in Music series. You know, only one of the most famous ballets about a princess.

What gives?

First, it’s Tchaikovsky. The last time I checked, Tchaikovsky wasn’t
marketing Swan Lake dolls and playsets in 1877. It’s sort of like
embracing The Muppet Show while disowning all of the Muppet movies made
since Jim Henson’s death. Stay gold Ponyboy, stay gold.

Second, it’s wonderful music. As my wife says, "It’s full of life. Sway
and swirl. Dance, dance and dance some more." The CD gives my daughter
free reign to freestyle on the family room floor.

The focus is on a 33-minute abridged version of Swan Lake performed by
the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s a two-and-a-half-hour ballet, so you’re getting just the most memorable music on the CD.

Simple narration follows each piece summarizing the story’s progress.

Now, the story itself is not my thing — A prince intends
to marry (and thus rescue) a princess who has been turned into a swan,
but after a mix-up the two kill themselves and find eternal love in the

Sure, it seems silly when summarized and I did omit a lot of details in the middle,
but that’s basically how a lot of classic stories measure up… strange
by contemporary standards.

My daughter stays focused on the music at this point — it is after all the star of the CD — but if eventually
approached from an historical educational perspective a few years from
now, I can see being fine with the message.

It’s no surprise then that the recommended age for the CD checks in 2 years older at 6-years-and-up.

There are extra narration tracks explaining the history of the ballet,
of Tchaikovsky’s life and a sing-along titled, "Tchaikovsky Wrote a
Great Ballet." All of it falls squarely into the category of
educational materials of interest to someone who has or will be
attending a performance of Swan Lake, or who is perhaps taking ballet

Indeed, Addy, one of Thingamababy’s readers who won the CD this week,
provided this unsolicited observation upon her notification: "I am
excited about the Swan Lake CD. I have a house full of girls and my
4-year-old is a budding ballerina…well she takes lessons at the YMCA
and loves the Bella Dancerella series."

My own daughter’s experience is limited to well-received performances
of The Nutcracker at 2- and 3-years-old. I can definitely see using the
CD as a familiarization and preparation tool to set performance
expectations for a toddler.

The one unexpected thing on the CD is track #3, Speed Metal
Swan. Yep, after you’ve enjoyed the ballet and listened to
Tchaikovsky’s biography, you are greeted with 4 minutes of Swan Lake
interpreted as heavy metal by shred guitarist Joe Stump.

If your brain doesn’t freeze, I think you’ll agree, as far as metal renditions
of ballet music goes, it’s top notch. As I said, everything outside of
the 33 minute telling of Swan Lake has a stronger educational bent to it. The point is, "It shows young people — and older people — that virtuosity comes in many musical genres."

Maestro Classics also has CDs for Peter and the Wolf, Casey at Bat, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Really? Mike Mulligan has a
musical life? We’re fans of the picture book, but I can’t fathom a
symphonic version.

I’d appreciate hearing from parents about if/when you introduced your toddler to classical performances. As I said, we had great luck with a live performance of The Nutcracker at 2.5-years-old when our daughter attended with several friends, and today she enjoys inventing her own dances for Swan Lake.


5 Responses to “Music Review: The Story of Swan Lake”

  1. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    Mike Mulligan is intriguing enough to purchase!

    July 15th, 2008 at 6:51 am

  2. addyg says:

    my 4 year old loves to dance ballet I think it is more than a cliche of what little girls should be doing…but lessons have helped her learn some discipline, self confidence, build gross motor skills, how to follow instructions and also she finds it fun!! she has been to 2 ballets- nutcracker and Giselle and found them both riveting…I was surprised as Giselle is fairly lengthy. she loved the costumes and music. we are planning to see swan lake soon…she did dance to a selection from swan lake for her first YMCA recital.

    July 15th, 2008 at 10:07 am

  3. Natalie says:

    I am a musician, so my kidlet has been listening to classical music since he could hear in utero!

    However, he isn’t always fond of hearing me play, because I can’t focus on him at the same time (I miss being able to practice 4+ hours/day like I did pre-motherhood). But he does seem to enjoy listening to cds and Performance Today on NPR, and often wants to know which instruments are playing. He loves to dance around the kitchen! I don’t play cds or the radio all the time – I need quiet and don’t like music used as background filler.

    He sat through his first concert last week – a choral work accompanied by a pipe organ. He sat quietly and listened after being wiggly for a minute at the very beginning (and he is not quite 3). I want to take him to see the Nutcracker this year.

    July 15th, 2008 at 11:11 am

  4. Chief Family Officer says:

    My hubby’s not one for classical music, so the kids don’t really hear much of it. I just wanted to say that I love the mental image I have of Little Miss swaying and swirling in your living room!

    July 16th, 2008 at 1:20 pm

  5. Jeremiah says:

    The Mike Mulligan one is pretty good. The conductor (forget his name) composed the music, and it’s sort of an Aaron-Copland thing, including some relevant machine-like sounds (pounding spikes, etc.) in the orchestration.

    July 24th, 2008 at 1:55 pm

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