One of the ways I keep my satisfying retirement interesting is to look for ways to keep my mind active. Besides research that indicates an active mind is less likely to suffer dementia, it is just plain fun to learn something new.
I like to study a subject I don't know a lot about. And, one of the best ways for me to do that is to use the materials offered through The Great Courses. Offered in audio format (either CD or download) or as a DVD (video or download), the company behind these courses have literally hundreds to choose from in virtually every subject imaginable.
Usually, they are priced at a ridiculously high amount. No one I know is going to pay almost $400 for a stack of CDS. Recently, though, the company has apparently realized that they can sell these courses for a substantial discount and move more of the product off the shelf. Now, they have my interest, and my money.
To date I have purchased five courses. I have been extremely pleased with four of them. The fifth turned out to be too detailed for my purposes, though I still learned a lot and it opened another door for me. I thought you might find it interesting to see what I have paid my precious retirement dollars for.
How to Listen to and Understand and Great Music. Taught by Robert Greenberg, this is a fascinating look at the history and structure of music since plain chant all the way to 20th century jazz and symphonies. In addition to being remarkably well versed in the subject, Mr. Greenberg is also a character. His lectures are anything but dull. The 48 lectures of this course seemed to fly by.
More than just a sampling of famous musical pieces for the past 1,000 years, this course puts everything into an historical context to explain why music of a certain era sounds the way it does. As Professor Greenberg notes in his introduction, "Western music has always been a mirror of the social, political, and religious events and aesthetic ideals of its time." Grade = A+
Turning Points in Modern History. This course tracks key social, political, and scientific events from 1433 to the rise of social media. The 24 events that each rate a lecture are chosen because they "sparked profound changes in how humans viewed the world." Professor Vejas Liulevicius presents the material in an easy-to-understand style. Though nothing like Robert Greenberg, Vejas injects enough humor and energy into his presentation to make things interesting.
Many of the turning points are obvious, like the invention of the printing press, the French Revolution, Kitty Hawk, and the Atomic Bomb. Even so, the lectures gave me an insight into the wider effect each had in the world. Less familiar, were segments on the Chinese Opium War, The Russo Japanese War, or the Treaty of Westphalia. Each spurred me to dig deeper by finding library books that dealt with each. Grade = A
The Symphonies of Beethoven. After thoroughly enjoying Robert Greenberg's course on Great Music I bought this one to learn more about Beethoven. I had always thought of Mozart as the composer I'd want to know the most about. But, instead I discovered Beethoven was a tremendously exciting composer and one I wanted to explore more deeply.
Unfortunately, this course disappointed me, but not through any flaw in the lectures. It was simply too detailed. This course makes more sense for someone who is a serious music student or studying for a degree at a university. I was overwhelmed by the depth of the analysis of every movement of all nine Beethoven symphonies through the 32 lectures.
There was a very positive outcome, however. I did discover I really enjoyed Beethoven's music. So, I purchased a complete package of all 9 of his symphonies, directed by Leonard Bernstein. Beethoven's music is powerful and complex. Even though Professor's Greenberg's course was way too "deep" for me, he did open my eyes to an amazing musician. Grade = B-
Francis of Assisi. This is a course I just started before we left for our Oregon vacation so I don't have a real feel for it yet. But, the first few lectures have whet my appetite for more. What I know about St. Francis of Assisi is what most people know: a man who wandered around Italy hundreds of years ago, talking about humility and poverty.
The first several lectures basically have set the stage by describing the world at the time of Francis's life and what lasting impact his message has had on the world. When I return home I am looking forward to sections on his messages of compassion, simplicity, and poverty. Like all of the courses I have purchased so far, I am sure the lectures will include solid information on how the views and life of Francis continue to impact people today. Grade = B+ (tentative grade)
The Everyday Guide to Wines of Southern California (DVD). This is the only course I have bought that is a DVD rather than a CD. But, for something about wines I figured seeing the wine bottles and vineyards would make sense. While Betty and I are not wine experts by any stretch of the imagination, this course sounded fun prior to our October trip to one of the wine areas in California.
Master of Wine, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is attractive with a friendly style. If we are serious about getting the most out of this course we will have to adjust our food budget a bit to accommodate several bottles of more expensive wine than we normally consume. But, if that's the cost of our education.....oh well.
Grade = B (tentative grade since just started)
Lifelong learning is something I have made a part of my satisfying retirement lifestyle. It keeps my mind fresh and teaches me, almost daily, that what I know is far outweighed by what I don't.
Note: unfortunately, I am not receiving any compensation from the folks who produce the Great Courses. I just happen to be a satisfied customer.