MPR: Class Notes Series

A famous nanny once said, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” That phrase has been at the forefront of our minds for the past three years. Why’s that? Well, we were trying to remember our audience – children.


About three years ago, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) began a program called Class Notes, designed to teach children about the different aspects of music based on standards set by the MN Department of Education. Their goal was to provide teachers across the state of Minnesota with a written curriculum and a series of videos that would engage the kids while enhancing their musical literacy.  And that’s where we came in. For three years in a row, we’ve teamed up with Classical MPR to produce over 40 videos to help teach kids and inspire them to dive into the world of music!


This journey has been exciting and challenging all rolled up into one. You see, the concepts in the Academic Standards in the Arts are a list of guidelines for teachers to follow when creating curriculum for the classroom, so at face value it’s not really material that kids are begging for. The challenge was to take the content outlined in the Standards (which, truth be told, comes across as somewhat cerebral) and present it to children in a way that’s easy to understand and enjoyable to learn. So how did we do that? That’s where Miss Poppins’ quote came into play. The “medicine” was the Academic Standards content and the “sugar” was fun.


Kids, as a general rule, aren’t interested in having a bunch of information thrown at them.  We know this because, well… we were once kids, too. We wanted to have the videos be full of fun – quirky humor, silly characters, amusing animation, so on and so forth, primarily aimed at grades 3-6.  We knew that if kids could have fun watching the videos, then the “medicine”, or, information would go down easier and thus their comprehension would increase.


Using a combination of live action and animation, we’ve explored such topics as, “What Do Conductors Do,”  “How to Behave at a Concert” and “What’s Inside a Score.” We’ve instructed kids on the difference between major and minor, on what constitutes a “round,” and given kids insight into what instruments might best suit their individual needs.


Here’s a quote from Brett Baldwin, MPR’s Managing Digital Producer about the project:


Producing professional-grade classroom videos was a daunting task… until Crash+Sues came on board. From production planning, to conceptualizing, to on-site direction, animation, color and finish, they have made the making of our videos a smooth and enjoyable ride. Not only are C+S tireless in their efforts to deliver the best final product, they are also experts at working together with clients and transforming ideas into magical and engaging experiences. Working with C+S has been a terrific experience and I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone seeking production, creative storytelling, or animation and finishing work.


Another quote from Vaughn Ormseth, the Manager of Community Impact over at MPR:


Crash+Sues brought a sustained level of creativity, craft, professionalism, patience, and resourcefulness to its 2+ year partnership with us on a series of standards-based music education videos. The series presented ongoing challenges — how to engage both younger kids and their teachers? How introduce and explain often abstract concepts in simple, succinct terms without sacrificing accuracy? How to visualize a non-representational art form like music through video? In over two dozen videos, Crash+Sues demonstrated an exceptional responsiveness to these challenges while exploring each topic in kid-friendly and richly imaginative ways. The results are beautiful — a significant contribution to its young audiences, their teachers, and anyone else interested in the subject matter.


Overall, the response to the videos has been fantastic! Teachers across the state are using the videos to get their students excited about music!  We’re excited, too, knowing we’ve had a role in helping children grow in their education and love for music. If you’re interested in learning more about what MPR has to say about their Class Notes Series, check out their latest blog post.



Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at this season of MPR’s Class Notes!




Lastly, here are few of director Todd Isaacs favorite Class Notes videos.







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