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David Noel Edwards
Boston University Prof. Jeremy Yudkin at the Lenox Library in 2008.

Jeremy Yudkin wrote the book on music appreciation; his pre-concert Tanglewood lectures are free

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By Wednesday, Jun 27, 2018 Arts & Entertainment 3

Lenox — Boston University professor Jeremy Yudkin stands in the Lenox Library’s Welles Gallery hovering over a recently acquired digital piano. One at a time, he hits several keys and holds them down until they fade into silence. After a lengthy pause, he grins, nods his head affirmatively and delivers his verdict: Yes, this thing sounds like a real piano (“only better,” he explained later, “because it never goes out of tune.”).

Yudkin’s association with the Lenox Library goes way back. When he delivered his first Tanglewood pre-concert lecture there in 1983, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, the first compact disc had just been released and the price of a mobile telephone was a little under $4,000.

Much has changed in the last 35 years, including the price of admission to the professor’s celebrated music talks: In March, Yudkin made the surprise announcement that admission to his 2018 Tanglewood pre-concert lectures will be free.

Really? All of them?

“Yes! I am so pleased!” he enthused. “I have received two grants to underwrite the lecture series: one from the Town of Lenox and one from private donors through the Lenox Library. This is a dream come true, and I am so grateful for the recognition from the Library and the Town.”

The Lenox Library. Photo courtesy Lenox Library

As a Boston University professor, Yudkin teaches undergraduate students, Ph.D. candidates and everyone in between, including non-music majors. At least one former student is a tenured member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, another an administrator at the Tanglewood Music Center. Innumerable other distinguished music professionals got their starts in Yudkin’s classrooms. He has lectured at Oxford, Harvard and many other top-tier universities. Locally, he’s a popular lecturer for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College and One Day University.

Professor Yudkin literally wrote the book on music appreciation: Now in its eighth edition, “Understanding Music,“ is used by more than 20,000 students across North America every year. Owing to its cornucopic treatment of music history and its breadth of cultural and historical references, the book is practically a one-volume liberal education. For more advanced studies in musicology, Yudkin has written seven other books—most notably “Music in Medieval Europe”—and many articles for professional music journals. He co-founded Boston University’s Center for Beethoven Research with the leading American authority on Beethoven, Lewis Lockwood.

Yudkin earned his doctorate degree in historical musicology from Stanford University in California on top of his undergraduate and master’s degrees in classics and modern languages from Cambridge University in England.

While other eminent university professors suffer fools only begrudgingly, Professor Yudkin delights in teaching novices because he knows how to communicate with students at all levels.

A past lecture attendee, Phil, had this to say about Yudkin’s approach: “Your knowledge and expertise coupled with your perceptiveness and cultural awareness are such an integral component of the classical music experience there. Benefitting from your presentations is really indispensable for full appreciation of the works performed at Tanglewood which Pat and I recognized immediately after our very first afternoon in the Lenox Public Library, years ago.”

So, what’s the secret to his success in connecting with lay audiences?

“One is that I really enjoy talking to people. Another is that I have so much experience in teaching non-experts over all these years. I think I’m starting to get good at it!

What kinds of people come to his talks?

“It’s a very wide mix. Mostly they are people who love music, of course, and they tend to go to the Tanglewood concerts. But they are not music experts, just people who love music, go to Tanglewood and are eager to know more about the music that is being played.”

The Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood. Photo: John Ferillo.

What music does he talk about during his lectures?

“I make a point of talking about the music that is going to be played at Tanglewood that very day.”

Do his talks pertain only to the Tanglewood concerts?

He paused to reflect. “Well, that’s interesting,” he answered thoughtfully. “So many people have said that, what they learn in my talks, they can apply to all music they listen to—and not just classical music, either.”

That‘s true, and it’s easy to see why: Yudkin’s own musical interests are wide and varied. He seems to love the Beatles and Miles Davis almost as much as Bach and Beethoven. Yudkin’s resume at Boston University shows that he has taught many courses in music other than classical. His breadth of expertise is astonishing.

“Yes, I teach courses in jazz, the music of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and lots of other courses, in addition to the Beethoven, Brahms and Bach ones.”

Yudkin has several times been nominated for teaching prizes.

“Yes, over the years I have been nominated 10 times for teaching prizes. The most gratifying thing about that is that the nominations always come from the students themselves.”

What is it that he likes so much about teaching?

“There are two things: One is the challenge of trying to understand the music myself as deeply as I can, and the other is the joy I see on people’s faces when they get the enlightenment I am trying to convey!”

How long has he lived in the Berkshires?

“Twenty-five years. My wife and I love the Berkshires. She has taught school here for many years, and our kids went to the local schools.”

The first of Yudkin’s Tanglewood pre-concert lectures will be Friday, July 6, at 2:30 p.m. in the Lenox Library’s Sedgwick Reading Room. He’ll deliver another lecture there Sunday, July 7 at 11 a.m. You’ll find his entire summer lecture schedule here.

Of course, free admission to Yudkin’s lectures is good news for chronically impecunious Tanglewood aficionados. But it’s pretty safe to say that Jeremy Yudkin is going to need a bigger room.

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3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Phil O’Hara says:

    Thank you so much for recognizing Jeremy’s value and substantive contributions available to your community and the audiences of all music, especially classical.

  2. Jan Kaufman says:

    What a lovely article about Jeremy Yudkin. I have been attending Jeremy’s pre-Tanglewood lectures for decades every weekend at the Lenox Library. I have found them informative, insightful and accessible for a person with little background but a deep appreciation for classical music. It’s wonderful these lectures will be available to the public for free.

    Jan Kaufman

  3. Sandy and Ellen Brotman says:

    Listening to these lectures makes the concert experience so much richer.

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