When I first saw the ads I wondered if it was real – some sort of deep-fake scam. You signed up and had access to classes with famous filmmakers, writers, musicians…yeah right!
But then it started to make more sense, seemed legit. Why not?
A friend visited one day, told me she’d recently signed up for it – a bit of professional development on the side, some hobby-watching that had a work-application, or would assist with out-of-work creative writing. All things are everything. That’s how I see it. It all goes into the pot.
We watched a couple of episodes of the David Sedaris masterclass. And I was sold. I mean, David Sedaris. I’ll watch and/or listen to him always. I’ve read all his books, I’ve heard many of his shows. I have never seen him read live – and it seems unlikely I ever will now that the world has changed. But I could have him in my lounge reading and speaking for days on end.
Sign me up!
Well, in fact, it was my Christmas present after a big and unsubtle hint.
And I was away.
Listening to lessons from writers like Sedaris and Joyce Carol Oates and Roxane Gay. Watching great performances and getting deep inside the art and craft of music via lessons from Tom Morello (guitar), Questlove (DJing) and Sheila E. (percussion).
Each set of lessons – anywhere between 10 and 30 episodes, which also range from five minutes to just inside half an hour – I started absorbing this new content. There are PDF workbooks to download, some of the creative writing classes provide examples and exercises – and you do the work at your pace.
But to just be listening to these sharp minds is often enough.
I’ve worked through a dozen full classes – mostly writing-related. But I’m also interested in a few other topics. And – as I say – everything is connected. So listening to film composer Danny Elfman talk through his process, show some of his technique and discuss his long relationship with Tim Burton as well as sharing his passion as a movie-goer is all grist for the mill. More than that, it’s a window into the creative process.
Steve Martin’s comedy class teaches writing structure for jokes, but it can be applied to anything you’re writing, could help with tone for a joke for a speech, and is also just a fascinating journey through his comedy career, which was always more about writing than performance – even when he was selling out giant shows and releasing mega-selling comedy albums.
David Mamet hits you over the head with his approach to writing (as you’d expect, if not hope). David Lynch is glorious – part zany stand-up, part genius-philosopher. All intrigue, always.
These are names that should hopefully ward off the fears that this is some ropey platform. You can watch Serena Williams talk tennis, Natalie Portman on acting or Steph Curry on how to shoot properly for basketball. I plan to watch all of these things – despite never attempting acting, being roundly useless at tennis and only ever enthusiastic about basketball. (Okay, sometimes the ball goes in the hoop when I throw it. And that’s always a ‘yay’ moment).
I dream of a snooker masterclass. And more drumming (Sheila E. was the first one I watched, and it was excellent). I am interested in learning about things I already know something about (horror movies, jazz, poetry). I am also interested in things I really don’t know much about at all. And Masterclass has my book. I can learn about cooking, interior decorating, skateboarding, fashion….
Actually, the jazz class on offer is taken by Herbie Hancock. So that’s going to be something.
The poetry class was by Billy Collins. It was brilliant. It finally connected me properly with Collins, a name I knew and admired but had never quite clicked with – the course reading and Collins’ gentle demeanour was enough to hook me. And it was several library trips later that I felt invested in his catalogue. The work – now that I’ve had the right in – is astounding.
People like Collins, Joyce Carol Oates, Walter Mosley and Neil Gaiman are all very different writers from me, and from each other. They are all wonderful teachers.
I’m looking forward to classes from journalists Bob Woodward and Malcolm Gladwell.
The only tough call is fitting this in around a life of reading, writing, working, family, music and already too much TV and movie-watching…
But you find time for the things that you love, and that offer some reward.
The Masterclass app allows you to switch to audio mode, which works for some lessons. It’s obviously not going to be the best way to understand Steph Curry’s flawless three-point shot technique. You really need to watch that. But David Sedaris and Steve Martin and Roxane Gay and, well, most of the writers (Judy Blume, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood) are speaking from a chair, reading from their work, or presenting a classic short story (Hemingway) or inviting one or two real-life students in for a workshop. You can podcast this.
I’ve been enjoying the podcast version of the Masterclass most recently. It accompanies me on my walks – because one of the lessons I carry deep into life is the lecture from my dad that I shouldn’t just sit around all day. Who has time for that he says. So ‘learning’ and walking – the combo selling-point for any audiobook and many podcasts – is now part of the Masterclass universe for me. And I’m even more on board.
But seriously, I rate this resource. I think you find your groove with it, you find the teachers you love, and there are surprises galore. There are lessons you didn’t know would be the ones for you. You create your own pace, you buy in at the level that suits you (even doing shorter classes, little samplers).
So if you haven’t already, maybe check it out…
And I can speak from experience, as a grateful recipient, when I say that it makes a wonderful gift.