Your lectures for One Day U usually focus on or include George Gershwin and Rhapsody in Blue, which you call his Musical Masterpiece. Why do you think audiences are still so fascinated by Gershwin, and what’s so remarkable about “Rhapsody”?
George Gershwin is a towering figure in American music for a number of reasons. Obviously the heart of his appeal is the beauty, wit, and excitement of his music. He also is the American composer who brilliantly bridged the usual divide, even chasm, between popular and concert music. For all of his brief life (he died tragically at the age of 38) he moved easily between the world of Broadway and Hollywood musicals, for which he wrote almost all of his remarkable songs, and the world of the concert hall with Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris, and his great opera Porgy and Bess. Rhapsody in Blue was his first successful “Classical” piece and it remains his most beloved because it so beautifully takes types of melodies and rhythms that were developed in popular music and moves them into “classical” music. No other American composer has been able to do this as smoothly and seamlessly.
What’s the most surprising thing about Gershwin that One Day U students learn when they attend your lecture?
Well, I don’t want to give away all the secrets! But I would say that most people are surprised that Gershwin had a thoughtful and well-developed vision of what he wanted to achieve. His music sounds effortless and spontaneous, which in some ways it is. But he definitely had a plan for integrating different kinds of popular music—which he saw as representing American diversity—into the more traditional and European world of “serious” concert music. He wanted to celebrate the diversity he saw all around him in New York City in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. He was very deliberate in developing a style that would reflect American cultural diversity.
The next composer you’ll be discussing when you return to various One Day U cities will be Leonard Bernstein. Why did you choose him — and what will your focus be?
Leonard Bernstein came to music almost from an opposite place from Gershwin—Harvard educated and classically trained as opposed to Gershwin, who was a high-school dropout. But each of them achieved a synthesis of popular and classical styles and wanted to write “American” music by incorporating popular and jazz elements into their longer works. Bernstein’s path was different because of his classical training and he sometimes felt a bit guilty about his popular music, wanting the approval of the “serious” musicians who in those days looked askance at his popular works such as “On the Town” and “West Side Story”. But his place in American music is unique, as a composer, conductor, pianist and teacher and he deserves to be celebrated for all of those accomplishments.
When you lecture about music to Our One Day U audiences – where nearly everyone is 50+ – how is it different than lecturing to college age students?
The biggest difference is that I always learn from the One Day U audiences. They ask the best questions—questions that make me think about the music I love. And they often have remarkable experiences in music they share with me. They are responsive and appreciative of whatever insights I may provide and their attention and interest is what every lecturer and presenter hopes and prays for.
Any music that you’ve recently discovered that you really love? Anyone we’ll still be taking about in 100 years?
I recently agreed to participate in a salute to Richard Rodgers, who is today best known for his amazing musicals written with Oscar Hammerstein and the great earlier work with Lorenz Hart. From “My Funny Valentine” to Oklahoma, who doesn’t know and love his songs and shows? But he also wrote a number of non-vocal pieces that have been arranged for the piano including the Carousel Waltz, Victory at Sea, and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Learning about this music and performing it has been a revelation. He deserves a talk all his own—maybe someday for One Day University!
I think the great songs by that generation of Broadway, Hollywood and jazz composers and lyricists—George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Fats Waller, Jerome Kern and others will continue to be performed 100 years from now. It is already about 100 years since the beginning of the era of the great “standards”, and they are still performed and beloved in many different arrangements and styles. They represent a high watermark of popular culture in the United States and have become one aspect of our permanent, “classical” culture—as beautiful and meaningful as the songs of Schubert, Schumann, and Mahler.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
One of the great joys of recent years, ranking just below the joys of six amazing grandchildren, is speaking about music with One Day University audiences. They are invariably curious, interested, and give tremendous feedback. In addition to the pleasure I get from presenting my talks, I also always look forward to going back to college for a day myself and hearing the terrific roster of professors One Day has assembled. I was a Dean and Academic Vice President in a former life, and I have heard many terrific professors over the years. The group of professors presented by One Day University is truly unique and fabulous both for the material they present and the approaches to learning they embody.
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About the Professor
Orin Grossman has been delighting audiences the world over with his unique and engaging approach to performing and explaining great American and European music. He is in demand as an interpreter of the music of George Gershwin, playing his songs and classical compositions around the world, including Florence, Cairo, Australia, and St Petersburg, Russia, where he performed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and gave the Russian premiere of Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic to a standing ovation.
A superb lecturer, he has developed a series of lecture/concerts combining performance and discussion. His One Day University lectures in New York City on George Gershwin, Jewish-American composers, and other topic have been particularly successful.
Orin Grossman began piano and theory instruction at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the age of five. After several graduate recitals there, he entered Harvard College from which he graduated Magna cum Laude in Music. He continued his studies at Yale University, earning a Ph.D. in Music.
Dr. Grossman joined the Fairfield University faculty in 1975. In 1991, he was named Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and, in 1999, Academic Vice President. He is presently Emeritus Professor of Visual and Performing Arts.
For more information, visit Orin’s website.