Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Patron Forum: Olly Wilson and Nerdy Arcana

Olly Wilson, 1937-2018
Olly Wilson, 1937-2018

On Saturday, February 16, I was honored to be the first speaker at a Memorial Symposium at the University of California, Berkeley for my friend and teacher, Olly Wilson. Olly – who died on March 12, 2018 – was a distinguished composer, musicologist, and author. His obituary can be read in The New York Times.

I will take the liberty of posting the comments I made at the event on Patreon next week. 

Composers, performers, and friends flew in from all over the country for the symposium. The speakers and performers were an impressive lot, as a perusal of the program below will reveal:

Olly Wilson Symposium Program
Olly Wilson Symposium Program

The presentations and discussions ran the gamut from the general to the technical; Olly was, after all, a composer of “modern music”, and any discussion of any music that would seek to be anything more than just superficial demands that the inner workings and makeup of the music – its grammar – be addressed. 

I will admit that those discussions were my favorite of the day. Being self-employed, I rarely have the opportunity to hear other professional composers analyze and “talk shop” about music I love. It was, for me both enlightening and inspiring. Undoubtedly, there was a segment of the audience – perhaps even a large segment of the audience – that could not follow these particular conversations, but that’s okay; they were brief, relevant, and they described aspects of Olly’s music that deserved – that needed – to be discussed.

To Get Technical Or Not To Get Technical

I made my first Great Courses/Teaching Company course in May 1993: the first edition of How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. The course was based on the sophomore year, two-semester music history course I taught at the time at the San Francisco Conservatory. The next three courses I recorded – all in 1995 – were Bach and the High Baroque, Concert Masterworks, and The Symphonies of Beethoven. Like Great Music, these courses were all based on ones I taught at the Conservatory and, as such, they leaned towards the technical: they are filled with structural and thematic analyses. From there it was on to How to Listen to and Understand Great Opera and the Great Masters series, courses that are decidedly less technical. 

And so began what was, for me, the “great challenge”: of finding the middle ground between “too technical” and “not-technical enough” course content. A large percentage of the mail I get and the criticism I receive has to do with just this: “this course is too technical” or “this course is not technical enough.” What can I say? You can’t please everybody all the time.

Which brings me to a Patron Forum blog that was posted on January 31.……

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