February 2013


This spring OLLI will present a class entitled "From Bach to Bernstein: Two Centuries of Choral Music," to be taught by John Prescott, Ph.D. While he is new to OLLI, John Prescott is a familiar name in the Bay Area choral music scene. I first heard him give a pre-concert lecture before a performance of St. Martins in the Field sponsored by Cal Performances.

Dr. Prescott states that his goals for the class are to impart "...a broader knowledge of choral music and how it relates to the wider society...as well as gain a deeper appreciation of the music itself...and, of course, to have fun." While musical training isn't necessary, he will mention relevant "nuts and bolts" alterations in changing musical style.

Dr. Prescott has taught music courses at UC Berkeley and music theory at The Crowden School (a private school for musically gifted children in Berkeley), and was the musicologist for the San Francisco Elderhostel Arts and Humanities Program. Besides his many other lecture engagements, he has been the resident pre-concert lecturer for Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra since 2002.

When asked about his choice of career, he states: "People ask me when I decided to go into music and I don't remember. I was so young. I took the violin when I was three, so I've been there all my life. I was born blind; my parents figured it might be a natural fit. It turned out to be." When asked about his interest in history, he said, "I was blessed to have lots of older relatives and my grandparents were very active in my life, very present. I just sat and listened to them tell stories about times long before I was born and I think that hooked me into knowing about the past and bringing the past back to life. Connecting that to my love of history was a natural fit." While he plays the Celtic harp professionally at church and memorial services, his main professional activity is teaching and lecturing.

Prescott grew up in Minneapolis and attended St. Paul's Academy, receiving instruction in Braille from a visiting teacher for one hour a day. At Carlton College, Prescott received his B.A. (magna cum laude) in Music and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was among an elite group to be awarded the British Marshall Scholarship, enabling him to attend two years of study at St. John's College in Cambridge, England. He also studied at Oxford University's Worcester College. Dr. Prescott received his M.A. and Ph.D. in musicology from UC Berkeley. He has written extensively on the music of Handel and he wrote his dissertation on John Stanley, the 18th-century blind organist, conductor, violinist and impresario.

The class will hear such composers as Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Verdi and will include the development of large choral festivals, such as a 1920s recording of Handel's Messiah sung by a chorus of three thousand and an orchestra of five hundred. The superior acoustics of the Freight and Salvage will be ideal for the many planned choral presentations. CDs with relevant selections of music will be available for purchase for those who wish to enjoy them again outside of class.