The origins of What Makes It Great?®
During my freshman year at college, I was fortunate enough to take an inspiring art history course with a wonderful professor named Robert Herbert. Before taking the class, I had enjoyed going to museums, liked certain paintings, didn't like others, but overall hadn't given much thought or attention to why. I knew what I liked, and that was enough.
In addition to classroom lectures, every Friday we would go to the Yale Art Gallery and spend an entire session on a single painting. These sessions were a revelation to me. I realized that I had never really looked closely at a painting. I was astonished week after week to realize how much I had completely missed in paintings that I thought I knew. Each week, prodded by the professor's careful attention, a painting would materialize before my eyes as if for the very first time. The course began to teach me the difference between looking and seeing.
What Makes It Great?® began for me with that course. In some ways music poses even more difficulties than art because it refuses to sit still for us. It happens in real time. And in great music, so much goes by—so quickly—that it requires enormous attention to hear it all.
That is what What Makes It Great?® is really about: Listening. Paying attention. Noticing all the fantastic things that might otherwise go by. When you begin to hear the things that make a piece great, it can spring to life as if you have never heard it before.
During each What Makes It Great?® program we take a piece of great music, tear it apart, and put it back together again. We rewrite it, sing it, tap it, clap it: in short, we do everything in our power to get inside to see what makes it tick and what makes it great. Then on the second half of the program we hear the piece performed in its entirety—hopefully with a new pair of ears. If my art history class was about the difference between looking and seeing, What Makes It Great?® is about the difference between hearing and listening.
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