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Morrie Brand looks to bring classical music to the masses — a class at a time

| Sunday, April 23, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Morrie Brand has been managing director of the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra since 2000.

Chuck Greenberg is quick to admit he has “absolutely no musical talent and a tin ear.”

What better reasons could there be to take a course in classical music?

“I felt a great sense of ignorance about it,” says the Murrysville resident who has a doctorate in engineering. “I ended up gaining an understanding of the history of music and feeling a little more comfortable with it.”

Greenberg accomplished this bit of learning from the four-session Classical Encounters class offered by Morrie Brand, retired executive director of the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra.

The next session of classes will begin May 2 at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

Brand, who is currently the director of the symphony's Academy of Music, says the classes are a way of doing something he has wanted to do for many years: “Make people less afraid of classical music.”

He tried it before, in the 2006-07 season of the orchestra, but says his duties with the ensemble then got in the way. His new schedule has given him the opportunity, he says.

“It's not really a class,” he says. “It's more like a conversation. I use a friendly tone and try to teach people about the music and terms they need to know.”

To foster that style, Brand says he wants to keep the classes to no more than 15 participants.

He says the Academy of Music is interested in offering the classes at a number of other sites in the county and also on evenings and weekends.

Classical Encounters approaches its mission by looking at a musical era in each of its four weeks: Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary.

Listeners move from J.S. Bach and Baroque to the Classical era of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Romantic times of Richard Wagner and the modern days of Aaron Copland.

“I first called the Contemporary section 20th Century,” Brand says with a chuckle, “but now we are well into the 21st.”

Listening to recordings and Brand's comments provides a look at music from artistic as well as historical directions.

“I learned a lot about the personalities of composers, about how some were just difficult to get along with,” says Diane Schreckengast of North Huntingdon.

She and her husband, Randy, took the first of the revived Classical Encounters courses at Norwin Public Library in March.

He says they have always had some appreciation of classical music, but really didn't know much about it.

“And I learned that I really don't like Romantic music any more now than I did when I started the class,” Randy says. “I am more of a classical kind of guy.”

Greenberg, who also was at the Norwin sessions, says he is a little more open to Igor Stravinsky's “Rite of Spring” than he once was.

“I think I am less turned off,” he says. “I learned to listen a bit more. Sometimes in the past, I would have music on, but really wouldn't be listening to it.”

Bob Karlovits is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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