It's easy to forget the orchestral music we hear was composed by human beings, especially in this era of digital music when complex sounds issue from small boxes (or big ones, if you're really into noise). A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers is intended to help children connect composers with their work, and through expanded knowledge achieve greater appreciation of the Western world's great music from Anton Bruckner to John Wiliams.
Intended for use over one school year, students study 26 composers and six style periods in 32 lessons, listening to music, reading brief bios (and taking quizzes), and completing a variety of activities. Aimed at grades 4-8, many younger kids would get a lot out of the course if mom or dad read the bios aloud, while older students could supplement with extra reading or research. Each lesson contains three pages of text, a two-page review quiz, and links to activities found in the appendices.
Lessons will typically take 20 minutes to an hour, three days a week. On day one, kids listen to recommended selections from the composer's work, read the lesson, and take the review quiz. For the second day they listen to the selections again, make a composer info-card from components found in the appendix, and update the map and timeline found in the back of the book. Day three is devoted to listening to the music one more time, with no further assignments.
Extra resources in the appendix include the map, timeline and info-cards, suggestions for further listening, games, detailed coloring pages for each composer, directions for making a composer folder, a composer resource list, useful websites (unfortunately some of these are now nonexistent or out-of-date), lesson answer keys, and a glossary of terms. Be aware that most of this busy work isn't essential; kids can complete the main part of the lessons and learn all they need.
Because this is an appreciation course as much as a multiple biography, the listening selections are crucial. The pieces and recordings chosen by the authors are excellent, but be aware that most of the Internet links provided no longer work and you're going to have to spend time finding alternatives at the library or online. The youtube.com links in particular are bad, but most of the recordings are still available in free formatting of one kind or another (you just might not get to watch a video of the orchestra performing). We'd recommend checking out "grooveshark" for a wide selection of free classical music online.
A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers was written from a distinctly Christian perspective, though the authors don't hedge when composers' lives failed to exhibit a godly bent....too much. If a composer was obviously not a Christian they say so, but there are a few iffy examples, such as describing Mozart's "deep and living faith" that was "evident in all he said and did." Still, the overall content is informative and well-presented, and this is a great place to start if you want to foster a love of great music in your children.
There aren't many courses like this available to homeschool families, especially those who love music but aren't technically proficient or knowledgeable themselves. A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers meets both needs by being the right kind of music history/appreciation course its authors claim it is, and by teaching students (and parents!) the terminology and concepts behind orchestral music. At the same time, it isn't overbearing or needlessly jargon-filled, instead offering a fun and Christian introduction to one of the staples of Western civilization—Classical music in its many forms.