TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Ethics and Beethoven … two courses in the OXFORD EXPERIENCE

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 4, 2010

Pat and I decided we would take separate courses,

so we could double and then share our learning, and also meet more interesting people.

Our plan worked out just fine!



for all the details about the 2010 Oxford Experience program.


Pat’s course



We had nine women and one man in our class, with an age range from 20 years old to 79.  There were 5 Americans among the group.  There was a mother & daughter, and a brother and sister.  Also two friends who met at Oxford Experience several years ago and return each year. Now that we’ve taken a course at Oxford, it is easy to understand why so many people come back on a regular basis.

tutor Alexandra Couto

Our tutor was Alexandra Couto, the youngest of the tutors and also the only woman. She is currently working on her PhD in philosophy at Oxford, having taught Oxford undergraduates for the last six years. She was delightful as well as intelligent and had a wonderful ability to allow free expression while still keeping the group on track.

Here is our group, except for Gemma, who was otherwise engaged …


Our group was diverse, very friendly and quite outgoing. Each person participated and all views were given respect. Alexandra always kept us on track, but discussion was always lively, intelligent and informative. We discussed the different models of Ethics, comparison of ethical theories, morality, medical ethics, ethics of war, the environment. All difficult issues.

Alexandra would give a short lecture and we would discuss the issues.  Then we would be given a specific set of facts and divided into groups of 2 to discuss. Each group reported to the class their resolve of the issue.  Sometimes Alexandra had each of us take a different viewpoint and we had to defend it. Sometimes we had to take the opposite view point of what we believed.

Our class room was set up with chairs in a circle and each day we changed seats so that our discussion groups were with different people.   By the end of the week each person had the opportunity to be partnered with everyone in the class.

The best part of the entire experience was that you got to stretch your mind, discuss, listen, learn. All points of view were put out for discussion. The amazing part was the fun we had. With such heavy topics to discuss we surprisingly spent the major part of each class laughing.  Sometimes when you discuss such serious topics you tend to take them to the absurd levels, hence the outrageous comes into play.

Random photos of our group and other friends I made …

one of the photos is blurred, but our thinking was always crystal clear ... just don't ask about the cat!


Lew’s course


in the music room at Christ Church College, Oxford

Reflections on my first day of class in 45 years …

There are 14 people in the class. I think all the others are far advanced over me, but that just gives me more opportunity to learn. The tutor (professor), Jonathan Darnborough, is equally facile with the piano and a computer. He is an accomplished concert pianist and is able to illustrate any point with just the right selection. Likewise, he uses the Sibelius program to project a large image of the score being discussed, and takes us through the notes with a guiding hand also projected on the screen.

We will meet two times each morning for at total of 3 hours, broken by a coffee break in the Junior Common Room. The first day’s sessions are titled “Characteristics of Beethoven’s music” and “Beethoven’s piano music.”

I found both sessions fascinating. Jonathan talked about (and played examples of) big dramatic gestures, the assembly of small musical ideas into large themes, the apparent simplicity of some of these themes, the relation of every moment in a piece of music to every other moment,  the architecture of a movement, the journey away from the home key and the eventual return, the establishment of the home key before the journey, and Beethoven’s later purposeful and challenging blurring of the boundaries when changing keys. All with examples from the piano and/or Sibelius. Brilliant!

I kept thinking about the parallels between composing a piece of music and my challenges writing a novel. For example, at a given point, is the theme in the novel sufficiently developed before moving on to different action, or can more be done to make sure it is “nailed” for the reader?

tutor Jonathan Darnborough

Our tutor, who lectures for Oxford University, has written orchestral, choral, chamber and solo instrumental works, and is currently working on an opera based on Euripides’ Hecuba. Jonathan’s works have been performed in Britain, Europe and the U.S.; he is also a prize-winning pianist who has performed widely.

All of this experience came into our course. For example … many times over the course of the week, Jonathan would show us a piece of music and play on the piano how, in his words, “the composer might have written it. But he didn’t!” And then he would explain and have us listen to the unexpected effect the composer achieved.

Further information about Jonathan and his wife Claire can be found at …

Over the rest of the week, Jonathan taught us about Beethoven’s piano music, symphonies, concertos and opera, and the impact of his brilliance on those who followed him, particularly Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. Jonathan’s perceptive analysis of the struggles of those who followed Beethoven, and the decisions they each made whether to try to build on the master’s innovations or react against them, brought a very human dimension to the problems faced by serious artists in many different disciplines. It was fascinating to see how these decisions played out in specific musical passages and works.



A big part of THE OXFORD EXPERIENCE is the opportunity to become friends with people who are knowledgeable and passionate about their interests. That was certainly true in the Beethoven group, and in Pat’s group, they seem to have set a whole new standard.



2 Responses to “* Ethics and Beethoven … two courses in the OXFORD EXPERIENCE”

  1. Lew Weinstein said

    We signed up through the Oxford Experience web site at … This link is now part of the above post, but it wasn’t when you first read it.

  2. Karen & Joe said

    Looks like you guys had a wonderful experience. Joe and are are wondering how you hooked up for a one-week course at Christ Church. Was it through Florida State University (as mine was in 1993)? My course was also held at Christ Church so I’d love to take Joe there someday. Karen

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