I was on my way to becoming an adult school drop-out when “Shakespeare in Music” turned out to be almost entirely about obscure opera. Perhaps I should explain.
When we moved to Chapel Hill, we looked forward to auditing courses at UNC, a mere twelve minutes from our home. Unfortunately, as part of the pervasive financial crisis, the University system dropped their longstanding policy of allowing anyone over fifty to audit unless they were on staff. How this change saves money is beyond me, but policy is policy.
The next best thing, my always resilient spouse said, is to participate in the “Life-Long Learning Program” for adults at Duke. My initial thoughts were that Duke is thirty-five minutes away, not twelve, and my son, who attends UNC, and is a basketball fan, would no longer speak to me. However, the catalogue included several interesting classes, and I agreed to participate.
I signed up for Screenwriting, and my wife signed up for History of Comedy. The day before the first class, however, I received a call advising that the Screenwriting class was full.
“Alright, that’s too bad, but what about Nanotechnology?” I asked.
“Full,” she said.
“Technical writing?” I asked.
“Full,” she replied.
“Well, can I join my wife in History of Comedy?”
She paused for a moment, then replied: “That’s not available either.”
“Perhaps,” I said, “I should just ask what is available.”
“There’s a class called ‘Shakespeare in Music’ and…” she hesitated, then finally continued “….Actually, that’s the only class that is available.”
I pondered my choice that was not really a choice. Do I let me wife drive to Durham each Monday morning by herself or do I learn something about Shakespeare in music? To be in class, or not to be in class, that was the question.
Having resolved to be a good sport in my new, non-New Jersey, semi-retired mode, I thought, “What the heck? I’ll do Shakespeare.” The ballet music from Romeo and Juliet was a favorite of mine, and I was certain it would figure prominently in the course.
My main impressions of the first day of class were that my teacher was a young man who spoke quietly and with a lisp and that most of my class-mates utilized canes or walkers. Two had oxygen tanks. And the syllabus…. I had not imagined that there are four operas based on Falstaff, not one by a composer with whom I am familiar. The Romeo and Juliet that had attracted me was not included, the teacher explained, because the proper expression of Shakespeare in music is found in opera, not ballet. He felt it was important to study the “texts” which he pronounced with extreme difficulty. It sounded like “tetthhhhhs.”
Of the twenty students in the room, ten were asleep by the end of the ninety minute session. To be fair, only eight fell asleep during class because two were asleep when the class began. I struggled to keep my eyes open. The woman next to me whispered, when it was over, that I was a nice boy for being willing to drive my parents to the class, and asked me which ones they were.
On the way home, I told my wife I was unsure about continuing. However, she had enjoyed her class immensely and suggested that I try it. She assured me there were several open chairs and that the teacher did not take attendance.
“We laughed the whole time,” she said. “You won’t believe how funny the instructor is.”
The following Monday, ready to be amused, I snuck into “History of Comedy.” The students were just as old as in “Shakespeare in Music” but they seemed livelier – they were, after all, interested in comedy. Everyone chatted amiably for several minutes until the elderly teacher arrived. He faced the blackboard and drew a huge smiley face. He paused for a moment while we tittered, then laboriously drew a teardrop next to one eye. He turned and gazed at the assembled students, and said: “I have an announcement.”
We smiled expectantly, anticipating the first joke.
“I have cancer,” he said, gravely. “I will not be able to continue teaching the class.”
We sat in stunned silence. After a pause, he continued: “I imagine you can get a refund.”
He shuffled out.
We all looked at each other, crestfallen. Finally, we rose one at a time and walked out. I still needed to process the sad event that had just occurred, but one thing was clear to me; my premature matriculation into adult education was over. Perhaps in twenty years, I will try again.