Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

The Making of a Course – Page 2

The Making of a Course – Part Four

Generally speaking, when you’re self-employed – as I am – the concept of “weekend” doesn’t mean a whole lot. Saturdays and Sundays are work days like any other; deadlines and the whip-hand of my merciless boss make it so. But every now and then there are exceptions, and this weekend is one of them. TGIS – thank god it’s Saturday. After two full days of recording while simultaneously experiencing more rhino-discharge than I care to describe, I am pleased-as-punch to have a couple of days off. Head cold aside, the first third of the course is in the can and it is going swimmingly. As is always the case, a successful production is a team effort, and much of the credit must go to the amazing team of professionals whose job is to make me look good. And while I am not at liberty to discuss The Great Courses team in detail, I would suggest that a look at the credits of any TV show will give an idea of the size of the team: from executive production staff and producer to editors and director to sound techs and camera operators, etc., it takes a village to make a course. […]

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The Making of a Course – Part Three

Today I ran out of luck. After twenty years of recording courses and never having so much as a sniffle, I woke up this morning with the grandmother of all head colds. I got through the day thanks to the indulgence of my incredible crew, enough Sudafed to start a meth lab, and about 10 mugs of hot tea. Thankfully, it is not a throat/chest cold and thus my voice has not been unduly affected; otherwise I’d be road kill. Once I get through tomorrow I’ll have the weekend to rest up, and by Monday I will be – knock on wood – as fit as a Strad. Even under the best of circumstances, making a course is a challenge. It’s a series of non-stop, extremely intense, ten-hour days, split evenly between time in front of the cameras and studying for the next lecture. One of the things that makes this type of course difficult is that each lecture is a self-standing entity, which means changing gears – different music, different composers, different historical eras, etc. – from lecture to lecture. Pre-lecture preparation requires not just focusing on what comes next, but flushing the brain clear of what you’ve just […]

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The Making of a Course – Part Two

We will begin a full recording schedule tomorrow (Thursday). Preliminaries today: making friends with the piano, technical rehearsal, catching up with colleagues and crew. One of the things that makes this course special is that instead of using pre-recorded musical examples, our musical examples will be custom-recorded by three professional concert pianists. Thus, we will not only hear the music but we’ll be able to watch the pianists play as well. I don’t know about you, but when I go to a concert featuring a piano, I always want to sit on the left side of the auditorium so I can watch the pianist’s hands. The issue is more than just watching – with amazement – flying fingers. Like an actor’s body language, the manner in which a pianist “addresses” the keyboard will tell us much about the nature of the music being performed. Bach and Mozart require a pianist to stay centered on the keyboard, with hands close to the keys and elbows in. Chopin’s music demands an almost balletic grace from hand and arm, whereas Liszt’s music – which often seems to cover the entire keyboard at once – will, at such moments, require movements more often seen […]

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The Making of a Course – Part One

In 1999, The Teaching Company/Great Courses began using teleprompters. Up to that point, all the instructors had worked from notes, as we do in the classroom. The result was – as it always is when one works from outline – uneven: grammar can slip, ideas are repeated, the speaker resorts to “um”, and “anyway”, and “the truth of the matter is” and a thousand other delaying strategies while he/she searches for a word or idea. If you’re having a good day, the ideas and jokes come on their own and you simply chat with the cameras. If you’re having a bad day, the fight-or-flee instinct kicks in big time. In the classroom or lecture hall, a bad day isn’t all that bad; you take lots of questions from the students, allow yourself some tangential excursions, talk some sports, whatever. One cannot take such liberties when creating hard copy, which follows us around for the rest of our lives. The teleprompters changed EVERYTHING, mostly for the better. Prep time increased by an order of magnitude because everything had to be scripted in advance. My upcoming “23 Greatest Solo Piano Works” (23GSPW) course runs about 120,000 words in length (24 lectures at […]

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