“Tuning in to Modern Music,” by Carole Grossman – (2007 profile of Naomi and Peter Schmidt)

BOLLI encompasses scholarship, teamwork, and conviviality. All were very much in evidence in the fall 2006 and spring 2007 courses Who’s Afraid of 20th Century Music? led by an outstanding husband and wife team, Naomi and Peter Schmidt.

Naomi and Peter met as graduate students in Physics at Columbia University in 1963 and married in 1967. Peter became an assistant professor of physics at Brandeis in the 1970s and later moved to a career in private industry as a machine vision engineer. Naomi taught math in a community college, taught computer science at Brandeis in the 1970s and 1980s, and then worked at Brandeis and M.I.T in the field of academic computing, helping faculty use information technology in teaching.

Peter became interested in contemporary classical music in the 1960s. Naomi just tolerated her husband’s tastes in modern music until the past few years, when she made a deliberate attempt to listen and learn more. After becoming a BOLLI member in 2003, she tried to get Peter to join her. He was motivated after being asked at a dinner party, “If you were to teach a course, what would it be?” This was his trigger—he would co-teach modern music with Naomi at BOLLI!

With Naomi’s teaching skills honed in the Learn and Lead course and her knowledge of the difficulties experienced in learning to enjoy contemporary music, she was an excellent partner for Peter. Keying off their own CD collection, they set up an eBoard with links to interesting articles and music.

Peter says the hardest part in planning this course was choosing the composers and works to include. They tried to pick works that were most representative of different styles. Excerpts ranged from the lyrical and melodic to dramatic to raucous and gnarly! Class responsibilities were divided, with Peter introducing the more difficult composers and Naomi presenting the more accessible ones. A BOLLI scholar, Annegret Klaua, enriched the class’s understanding of technical terms with demonstrations on her violin.

Class members were at different levels of musical ability, experience, and knowledge, which made discussions very interesting. Starting with more familiar composers like R. Strauss, Debussy, and Satie, the class then read articles and listened to 12-tone pieces by Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, followed by innovative but less dissonant compositions of Stravinsky, Bartok, and Hindemith. Works of Messiaen*, Britten, and Ives were followed by those of contemporaries such as Cage, Wuorinen, Glass, Bernstein, Reich, Bolcom, and Golijov. With the BSO under James Levine and visiting musical groups introducing contemporary works, this course allowed many of us to become aware and comfortable with innovations, eager to experience more. We are looking forward to future courses led by Naomi and Peter, together or individually. Naomi is offering Invitation to the Dance this fall. Peter is thinking about a new course, Five Physicists Who Changed the World View. The Schmidt’s scholarship, leadership skills, and enthusiasm will be terrific assets in any class they lead.

*Peter will be leading a class on 20th Century French composer, Olivier Messiaen, during BOLLI’s 2021 spring semester.

2 responses to ““Tuning in to Modern Music,” by Carole Grossman – (2007 profile of Naomi and Peter Schmidt)”

  1. Susan Schmidt says:

    Loved reading this history of Peter and Naomi. I had the pleasure of taking one of their classes in foreign films and it was wonderful. They make a great team.. whether in the class or in person. BOLLI is so lucky to have them as members.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for posting this from Blog history.
    I would enjoy their re-teaching this course on 20th century classical music.
    We have so many talented members in our BOLLI membership.

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