March 27, 2002: Of
saccharine melodies and melodramatic duets Robert Greenberg '76
lectures to thousands about music
M. Greenberg '76 is Professor of Music at the San Francisco Conservatory
of Music, a composer, and a pianist. He is a lecturer on what can
only be called a grand scale, known to thousands of listeners and
viewers through his audio and video recordings for The Teaching
Company. He also holds what may be a unique position as lecturer
on music to business organizations: How many other music professors
have been profiled in the Wall Street Journal?
After graduating from Princeton with a B.A. in music, he earned
a Ph.D. in composition at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Brooklyn-born Greenberg decided that "The Bay area is as
close to Paradise as I'm likely to get," and started teaching
adult extension courses at Berkeley. Teaching music appreciation
to adults, many of whom had no musical background, Greenberg found
himself suddenly, and hugely, popular. "People started asking
me to their homes, to give ëliving room courses,'" he
says. "Then their friends asked me, too." Among the many
students who appreciated Greenberg's lively combination of enlightenment
and entertainment was Earl F. Cheit, emeritus dean of Berkeley's
Haas School of Business, who alerted the Wall Street Journal to
his musical guru.
"Music Appreciation for Execs" appeared in the WSJ in
1992, and, says Greenberg, "All of a sudden, a lot of doors
opened." He was invited to be featured lecturer for the San
Francisco Symphony's Discovery Series, delivering regular lectures
related to the symphony programs.
The Teaching Company contacted him, to begin work on what became
the 48-part "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music,"
the 32-part "How to Listen to and Understand Opera," and
the 32-part "The Symphonies of Beethoven." Subsequent
courses on Bach and concert masterworks, and composer biographies,
have pushed Greenberg's total number of recorded lectures to well
He began to give lectures for local business groups, teaching
music history and appreciation along with leadership technique.
"I might, for example, examine the various musical roles played
by musicians and their business analogs: the composer (founder),
the conductor (CEO), the principal players (management team), and
the section players (workforce)," says Greenberg. "By
viewing the different roles, the stratification within an orchestra,
as a metaphor for those in a business institution, we can gain insight
into the sort of leadership and teamwork necessary to create a successful
performanceor business." During the course of a talk,
his executives hear music by such captains of industry as J.S. Bach,
Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, and Stravinsky.
Greenberg continues to speak regularly to the business community,
most recently in February at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton
School of Business Advanced Management Program.
Greenberg is also a composer, whose works are published by Fallen
Leaf Press and recorded on the Innova label. He has composed over
45 works for a variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles. His
piano quartet, "Funny Like a Monkey," was performed by
the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players at the Yerba Buena
Center in February; the San Francisco Chronicle noted his "zesty
rhythmic writing," while the San Francisco Contemporary Music
Review praised his "contrapuntal skill" and "lush
"Composing is what brought me to the table," he says.
"It's a basic part of what I am and what I've always done."
Composing, he says, is "terrible, wonderful fun. If I don't
do it, I feel cranky and out of sorts. I like being by myself, sitting
at the piano, communing with the fantasy in my own head. For me,
writing is an act of self-discovery."
Greenberg's current plans include Teaching Company series on Mozart,
Verdi, and Wagner operas, as well as biographies of Shostakovich
and Schumann. All this means hours of research and hours of writing
in his Orinda, Calif., home/studio. There, he is surrounded by "lots
and lots of booksI'm only as good as my libraryan excellent
hi-fi, a Yamaha grand, lots of pencils and music paper (as a composer,
I am completely analog), and an HP computer." The actual filming
and recording of the lectures, done in the Teaching Company studios
in Chantilly, Va., represent only "the very last act in months
of hard work."
What endears Greenberg to audiences, whether at the San Francisco
Symphony, a business seminar, or via cassette player in automobiles
across the country, is not only musical expertise, but humor, intense
involvement with his subject matter, and insistence on historical
context. Defending Puccini's Tosca against critics who call it "trivial,"
the recorded Greenberg exclaims, "Great composers and great
musicologists have trashed Puccini and Tosca. Why, then am I presenting
this composer, this opera, to you, my dear friends and listeners?
Becauseand heaven help my poor, simple soulI'm crazy
about Tosca. The saccharine melodies and melodramatic duets will
tear out your heart and stomp on it and make you weep." To
critics of Tosca, he cries, "Lighten up! Opera has almost always
been a popular entertainment in Italy, so why shouldn't late 19th-early
20th century Italian opera, á la Puccini, be an essentially
About his unusual career path, Greenberg says, "I'd rather
not have to work quite this hard, but that's a complaint shared
by most of my generation. Everything else is wonderful. Teachingstorytellingis
a noble thing. And I'd like to think that I'm a natural storyteller."