Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Looking back on the first edition of “How To Listen to and Understand Great Music”

I have managed to dig up and digitize a television advertisement for the first edition of my Teaching Company/The Great Courses survey “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music” from 1993. It’s a bit painful for me to watch: I weighed 30 pounds less than I do now; I had all my hair (including a very large moustache); and I wore contacts. I looked good, but most painful of all, I looked young.

When I recorded that first course in May of 1993, The Teaching Company had four full-time employees, including its founder, Tom Rollins. At the time, the company had just moved to its first “dedicated studio” in Springfield, Virginia, just south of Washington D.C.’s outer loop. Yes, it was a “dedicated studio”, but the company was still in its infancy, and the production values were crude (to put it mildly). I worked in front of a blue screen and a blackboard, read from a sheaf of notes in my hand, and used a small upright piano located on stage.

The method by which we mastered the musical examples was particularly primitive.

For that first course, our licensing agent sent me music on cassettes. I then dubbed the applicable musical excerpts onto other cassettes. In order to play the excerpts, Tom Rollins brought a stereo rig he’d bought at Macy’s to the studio, where we put it against a side wall. Using a remote control to operate the cassette deck, I played the musical excerpts in real time during my lectures, which were recorded for the master with microphones placed in front of the speakers. Talk about low-tech.

When the course came out the music – what a surprise! – sounded terrible. Rollins heard all about it from the customers. So he flew me back to Springfield; we re-mastered all the excerpts, and having done so, Tom replaced every copy of the course sold prior to that point at his expense.…

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