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How to Listen to and Understand Great Music Review by Willena Flewelling

Taught by Professor Robert Greenberg, San Francisco Conservatory of Music
The Teaching Company
4151 Lafayette Center Drive, Suite 100
Chantilly, VA 20151-1232

How to Listen to and Understand Great Music is a comprehensive music appreciation course taught by Professor Robert Greenberg, who holds degrees from two universities, including a PhD in music composition. He has composed more than forty-five works and has lectured for many prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States. This course covers both religious and secular music from the following eras: ancient, early baroque, classical and romantic, and modern (just prior to the first world war). It consists of 48 lectures lasting 45 minutes each, which are available in a number of formats: DVD, videotape, audio CD, audio download, or audiocassette tapes. All formats come with a course guidebook containing outlines of all the lessons. Available separately is a six-part Lecture Transcript and Course Guidebook that contains all of the lessons word-for-word, plus outlines and diagrams.

Music appreciation... definitions and terms... studying baroque instrumental forms... the mere mention of these words tends to evoke feelings of boredom in most of us. But this course is far from dry and tedious. Thanks to Professor Greenberg, it is instructive, interesting, entertaining, and fun all at once. The attentive student will gain an excellent grounding in and appreciation for concert music.

Professor Greenberg has succeeded in bringing the music of the masters within grasp of the ordinary person, dispelling the myth that concert music is too highbrow for most people. One of the first things he does is clear up a common misconception of just what "classical" music is. We often use the term too broadly for what would be better termed "concert" music. This is only one of many definitions and explanations used throughout the course, giving the student a firm handle on musical forms, techniques, and terms--"the 'grammatical' elements that make one fluent in the 'language' of music," as he so aptly puts it.

He examines the music of nearly every major composer--Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and more--unraveling its mysteries so as to make it relevant to the average person. In so doing, he also shows the composers as human and nothing more. For example, he points out that in English, the flowery name of Giuseppe Verdi would become simply "Joe Green."

Although How to Listen to and Understand Great Music was not designed particularly for homeschoolers, it is easily adapted to a variety of teaching methods and learning situations--from the individual student using headphones at a computer to a large group of homeschoolers who gather once a week throughout the school year. However, it is not for the faint of heart. This is no primary or middle school program. Because it was designed for older teens and adults, this program would probably be most beneficial to high school students, though younger students may find it profitable if they have a great interest in and aptitude for music. It is comprehensive enough for the serious music student but still accessible to the average high school student with little musical background who is interested in learning about this type of music.

I have the course in CD format and am a bit disappointed in the packaging. The CDs could be packaged more securely. As it is, they fall out of the sleeves too easily so that when you open the case they are in danger of spilling out. They are also awkward to pull out of the sleeves without bending them or putting fingerprints on them.

This course is not cheap, but it is well worth every penny spent. It will take the better part of the school year to work through, but the result will be tangible and satisfying. I highly recommend it to anyone and am definitely looking forward to using it with my children in the coming school year.

Product review by Willena Flewelling, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2006