Music History Monday: Charity Begins at Home
Play • 23 min
Home from the hospital circa April 25, 1954, “The Heir” (my father’s handwriting)

On April 18th, 1954 – 68 freaking years ago today – the American composer, pianist, music historian, and bloviator-par-excellence Robert Michael Greenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York.

The Teaching Company-slash-The Great Courses and My Favorite Things

Since 1993, I have recorded 32 courses for The Teaching Company, rebranded as The Great Courses in 2006, and further rebranded in 2021 as “Wondrium.” (The less said about that latest rebrand, the better. To me, “Wondrium” sounds like an acne control or irritable bowel medication.)

I am frequently asked “which is my favorite course.” That’s always an easy question to answer because the answer is whichever course I most recently recorded. As of today, that would be The Great Music of the 20th Century.

(Sadly, it would appear that I am the only person who bears much affection for this course, as The Great Music of the 20th Century has proven to be among the least popular course I’ve recorded. A principal issue is the musical examples. The Teaching Company/The Great Courses could not afford to license the music I needed to play during the course, much of which was still under original copyright. So we hit upon the idea of providing URL’s to performances freely found on the web. It was a great idea, or so we (incorrectly) thought. In fact, the whole thing proved unwieldy and ineffective: unwieldy because it is a royal pain-in-the-you-know-what to be constantly diving into the web for the musical examples, and ineffective because so many of the links went dead so very quickly.)

The 24th and final lecture of The Great Music of the 20th Century was, auspiciously, the 666th lecture I’d recorded for The Teaching Company/The Great Courses (auspicious because 666 is, after all, “the number of the beast!”). And indeed, the actual content of that 24th/666th lecture could be considered bestial (meaning “savagely cruel and depraved”), as it focused entirely on my life and my music.

For the first and only time in 666 lectures – recorded over a period of 24 years – I dedicated a lecture to my own music. (The lecture, which is entitled “Among Friends”, might just as well have been entitled “Charity Begins at Home”, which is the title for today’s post.) Without a doubt, my experience as a composer had informed every one of those prior 665 lectures. But despite the fact that I’d been writing music down since I was five years old and have a Ph.D. in music composition, I had not talked about myself and my own music until then.

So you will forgive me the dreadful conceit – here on the occasion of my 68th birthday – of drawing from (and extending) some of the biographical material that appeared in that 666th lecture for today’s post. I will not bore you nearly-to-death with the tale of my entire life (heaven forbid) but rather, I will bore you nearly-to-death with the story of my first thirty years, what we might consider my “making” as a composer.

Tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post will finish up that bit of biography and will then delve into a subset of my output of which I am particularly proud, that being vocal works based on Yiddish poetry in English translation.

From the Top

I was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 18, 1954, 31 days before Charles Ives died across the East River in Manhattan on May 19. How I would love to believe that something of his spirit floated east to Brooklyn and found its way to me!

My very self, surrounded by ladies: my mother Doris Faith Pollock Greenberg to the right, and my maternal grandmother Nancy Reiben Pollock to my left, July, 1954, somewhere in Brooklyn, New York

I spent the first two years of my life in the “Madison” section of Brooklyn, living in an apartment at 2020 Kings Highway. In 1956, my parents escaped New York (and their parents) by moving to the South Jersey ‘burbs, first to Haddonfield and then, in 1959, to Levittown (now known as Willingboro; Exit 5 off the New Jersey Turnpike). And that’s where I grew up.

My father Alvin (I know, I know; I hated when kids found out his name!) was a businessman who worked in Philadelphia and my mother Doris Faith (née Pollock) was a Ph.D. candidate in education at Rutgers University. I was the eldest of two; my younger brother Steve is today a radiologist living in Boston.…

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The post Music History Monday: Charity Begins at Home first appeared on Robert Greenberg.

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