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.

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