Questions, Questions, and, More Questions: How to Unpack Musical Genius of John Williams

James Heazlewood-Dale is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Musicology at Brandeis and a BOLLI Lecturer. This essay is based on James’ experience leading “John Williams: The Maestro of the Cinema” at BOLLI in Spring and Fall 2022.

All things good and great start with a question: marriages, summer holiday destinations, and, of course, choice of take-out on Friday nights. Over the five years as a doctoral student in the Brandeis musicology department and four years as a study group leader (SGL) at BOLLI, I have learned that the work of which I am most proud comes from asking the right questions. Questions have become the foundation of every course I have ever designed, every lecture I’ve presented, and, I would even venture, every fruitful conversation I’ve had with a student. When graduate students begin teaching at BOLLI, Avi Bernstein, the BOLLI Executive Director, assigns a painstakingly difficult task: Create a question that your course is trying to answer. Crafting a question that is worthy of interrogation is challenging—It can’t be so small that you can answer it in a brief amount of time and can’t be so big that it is impossible to attempt to answer over the course of 10 sessions, a typical BOLLI term. Whether you’re a veteran SGL, a new SGL, or looking for some inspiration to become an SGL, my aim here is to start revving up your mental engine in order to think about how to ask the right questions when designing a great course.

Continue reading “Questions, Questions, and, More Questions: How to Unpack Musical Genius of John Williams”

Making Friends with Rilke

David Kretz is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago and a BOLLI Lecturer. This essay is based on David’s experience preparing for and then, in the Spring of 2022, teaching “On Being Human: Reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus” at BOLLI.

Great texts, it has been said, read us. What is meant by this, I take it, is that in reading them we do not merely find out something about whatever it is they take as their subject matter. Nor do we merely learn about the texts’ perspectives on their subject matter. We (also) learn something about ourselves. In engaging writing or artworks of the highest quality, we come into contact with ways of looking at the world that are utterly strange to ours and yet compelling in ways quite difficult to pin down. We rarely find ourselves in easy agreement, although agreement can happen, and sometimes we find a line, a thought expressed, that we even want to affirm enthusiastically! Just as often we might find ourselves provoked to voicing loud disagreements. In any case, it is hard to remain neutral or indifferent to what such works express. We feel a need to take the measure of our distances and proximities to the text. It helps to do so in speech, by verbalizing our reactions, and it helps even more if we do not have to do it alone. In the classroom, we can triangulate our own responses with those of others and, when that happens, three elements are at play simultaneously: the text, ourselves, and our interlocutors. A great study group, to my mind, is one in which all three take on heightened saliency at various turns. 

Continue reading “Making Friends with Rilke”

“What’s Past is Prologue”: Shakespeare, the Supernatural and Political Imagination

Miranda Peery is a PhD Candidate in the Department of English at Brandeis and a BOLLI Lecturer. This essay is based on Miranda’s experience preparing for and then, in the Spring of 2022, teaching “Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses: Magic and Monarchy in Henry VI, Part 1 and Richard III at BOLLI.

How far have we really come from the days of witchcraft trials, supernatural authorization for political influence or rulers wielding claims of magic against the people over which they preside? Consider the historical document the Titulus Regius, in which King Richard III of England and his parliament use faith, and contemporary religious beliefs to deauthorize his brother Edward’s heirs, thereby making Richard the next in line to be king. While the particular charge is witchcraft, the underlying message is religious authorization to rule – and its efficacy is well documented. This, and other questions around the connection of the supernatural to political tactics, were the subject of much discussion in the study group I led at BOLLI in the Spring of 2022. 

Continue reading ““What’s Past is Prologue”: Shakespeare, the Supernatural and Political Imagination”