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OLLI at Vanderbilt Mission Statement:
OLLI at Vanderbilt helps adults over 50 rediscover the joy of learning and build community through diverse social interaction.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Vanderbilt University is an inclusive group that strives to organize and present to the greater Nashville community stimulating intellectual and cultural noncredit courses, programs, and trips for adults over 50 of all educational backgrounds.  OLLI focuses on the joy of learning.  Interesting topics are explored with thought-provoking and engaging instructors, who are primarily active or retired Vanderbilt faculty, as well as other community experts.  In a relaxed atmosphere, with no homework, tests, or grades, you have the opportunity to ask questions, contribute ideas, and interact with people who share similar interests.  OLLI participants exercise their minds while making new friends, not only in the classroom but through other educational activities, special events and community engagement. 

Winter 2020 Catalog   Printable Registration Form

Please call our office at 615-343-0700, or email us at with questions, or to join the email list!

ATTENTION! New registration system in place.  If you haven't taken a class since the spring of 2019, you cannot use the same username/password that you've used before. You must register as a new user.    Click HERE for registration instructions.     

List of Classes - Winter 2020:

(Open Enrollment Nov 18th 2019)

Fort Negley: Past, Present & Future

Nashville's Fort Negley is a Civil War fortification on St. Cloud Hill built by enslaved and free black people. During the war it was defended by several regiments of the United States Colored Troops. Both groups risked their lives and earned their freedom at the end of the war, and afterward many settled nearby in what would become Nashville's oldest black neighborhoods. As Nashville's black population fought for equality, white supremacist organizations worked to erase the black history of St. Cloud hill and terrorize the neighboring communities. In 1928, the City of Nashville purchased the property, and during the depression, the Works Progress Administration rebuilt the fort. In 2007, the Fort Negley Visitors Center opened, and in 2016, Fort Negley made national news as a controversial development was slated to begin at the site. In 2019, the park caught the international eye when it became one of only four sites in the U.S. on the UNESCO Slave Route. Now labeled a site of significance to the global understanding of slavery, resistance to that institution, and recovery from it in a rapidly gentrifying city, the future of the park is once again full of possibilities. This course will cover the expansive history of Fort Negley, the significance of the UNESCO Slave Route designation, and explore the various futures of one of Nashville's most underrated historic sites. Course includes optional walking tour of the site given by the instructor, date and time TBD.

How to Write a Memoir

How to Write a Memoir is a five-week course designed to provide tools and organizational tips on how to get started writing a personal or family story to save, distribute, and/or publish. Writing techniques discussed will help a participant plan and organize personal stories. Each participant will be encouraged to write and share a personal memoir essay during the five-week period. Classes are interactive as ideas are shared, personal manuscripts are read, and feedback is provided.

John Bell Hood's Tennessee Campaign

By 1864, the American Civil War had dragged on for three long and bloody years. While Federal forces were able to reverse some early Confederate victories, through the spring and early summer of that year the war was at a stalemate in both the east and the west with no end in sight. However, by the end of the summer, forces under Major General William Tecumseh Sherman began to make progress, finally claiming Atlanta in early September. Freed from the constraints of having to defend Atlanta against Sherman’s massive force, the Confederacy hoped to regroup under the recently appointed commander of the Army of Tennessee John Bell Hood. Hood looked to retake the offensive, attacking Sherman’s Lines of communication throughout northern Georgia, ultimately planning an invasion of Tennessee that would, he hoped, culminate with the recapture of the strategically critical city of Nashville and the return of Tennessee territory to the Confederate fold.

Music for Seniors Intermediate Harmonica Learning Lab

This six-week series is a follow-up to the summer and fall 2019 Beginning Harmonica Learning Labs. It is not for beginners. Instead, it is designed for students with prior experience playing the harmonica, including those who successfully completed one of the two earlier Learning Labs. It will be led by popular Teaching Artist and multi-talented instrumentalist and vocalist, Bronson Herrmuth. Participants will continue forward in their learning and practice of effective playing techniques and will add new skills for expanding their artistry in performing on the instrument. Students bring their own harmonicas for participation in each weekly session.

OLLI at OZ Arts Nashville

The Tony and Obie Award-winning creators of the Spike Lee-filmed Broadway hit Passing Strange collaborate again on this acclaimed theatrical music event Notes of a Native Song. Named for James Baldwin’s 1955 collection of essays on being Black in America, Notes of a Native Son, this show imagines Baldwin as a rock star hero — a flawed essential visionary who transforms how we see ourselves. Stew, Heidi, and their mighty band The Negro Problem use Baldwin’s work to examine lingering civil rights hardships through a rapturous mix of rock, jazz, and soul.

OLLI at the Nashville Shakespeare Festival

The Nashville Shakespeare Festival presents Macbeth.  Shakespeare's dark, cautionary play Macbeth is a mystic exploration of power, ambition, alliance, and the consequences of violent actions.  The cast includes Sam Ashdown (Hamlet 2018 and Marc Antony 2019) in the title role, and a diverse cast of 14 local and national actors.  Director David Wilkerson's perspective: "This production of Macbeth will focus on the factors that cause us to throw away our humanity, be it fear, grief, hatred, or power--especially the quest to gain and then keep power by any means necessary. The setting will be a world where civilization has fallen into ruins long ago. People have banded together in clans for protection because no one survives alone in this uncivilized society. The sets, costumes, lighting, and sound will work together to create a post-apocalyptic world that will grab audiences’ attention and imaginations."   Please join us for this enriching examination of the internationally acclaimed Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s production of Macbeth.   Two lectures will be offered on January 20 and 22.  On January 21 there will be a performance of Macbeth followed by a Q&A session with the cast and director.  OLLI students unable to attend the 10 a.m. matinee on January 21 should contact NSF to make other ticket arrangements.

OLLI Chorus

The chorus is designed to provide an opportunity to learn and sing a variety of choral music. Repertoire will be drawn from various genres and musical styles, which will help produce a rich cultural experience. OLLI singers will be guided into learning the importance of text in choral music, as well as the effect of balance and blend in producing quality sound for the enjoyment of the performer and the audience. Join the chorus this winter for a challenging and fun experience.

OLLI Steel Drum Band - ADVANCED

If you have a long history of musical experience or have participated in the OLLI Steel Band for several sessions, this class is for you. A level up from the Intermediate OLLI Steel Band, this class moves at a fast pace and focuses on learning the different styles of music that can be played on pan. Latin, jazz, calypso, reggae, rock, and even show tunes are all offered in this class. There is a strong emphasis on proper technique and learning the subtle nuances behind playing the steel pan. The class is highly music oriented and the participants will learn several songs each session, working towards a final recording that you can share with family and friends. Students will be placed according to their preference and the availability of the desired instrument. Participation in Beginning and/or Intermediate level bands is a required prerequisite unless instructor permission is granted.

OLLI Steel Drum Band - BEGINNER

Take a weekly musical “Cruise to the Islands” by joining the OLLI Steel Drum Band. No musical experience is needed to join this very hands-on class. If you enjoy island music like Harry Belafonte, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Marley, calypso, and reggae, this class is for you! The amazing history and construction of the steel drums will be presented through mini-lectures sprinkled throughout the classes. Listening and video examples of calypso music as well as discussions of Trinidadian culture, past and present, will give you a taste of the Caribbean and an understanding of how the steel band art form developed. The instruments are made up of melody, upper harmony, lower harmony, and bass steel drums (much like a choir). Students will be placed according to their desire to learn a particular instrument and their individual strengths.


This course is designed specifically for OLLI Beginning Steel Band members who have developed a solid fundamental background (grip, stroke, good sound production, rhythmic comprehension), and are ready for the challenge of slightly more difficult music. The band will be by instructor invitation, or a short audition (for new members that haven’t been in the beginning level for at least one session). All of the recommendations for enrollment for the Beginner band apply to the Intermediate band.

Six Modern American Novels

In this course we read and discuss (minimal lecturing) six American novels published in the period between 1899  and 1997, thus covering basically the span of the twentieth century--Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899); Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth (1905); F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925);  William Faulkner's Absalom! Absalom! (1936); Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987); and Philip Roth's American Pastoral (1997).   Interestingly, though accidentally, the gender balance between the novels is symmetrical.  The ethnic and cultural demographic is broad and inclusive.  And yet distinctively American themes surface and re-surface in these great novels as if they were somehow speaking with each other, putting forth their own point of view.  America, they all say in one way or another, by its nature and its history, encourages us to aspire to existential freedom.  What becomes of such aspirations when they are opposed or thwarted becomes the conflict that drives the narrative of these characters' lives.  In our discussions we will follow this theme, connecting dots, and the other themes that emerge from it.

U.S. History from the Women’s Perspective: A March Toward Equal Rights

In August 2020, Tennessee and the nation will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave American women the right to vote. This course will be an overview of United States history that examines the many steps that women made from the founding of our country to the dramatic moment when the Tennessee General Assembly ratified the amendment, making Tennessee the deciding state. It will then analyze the impact that the women’s vote actually made and the reasons why achieving true equality under the law proved so difficult to achieve. It will address the struggles that women have had in the long march for equality and will culminate with the Equal Rights Amendment that failed to be ratified as well as the progress that women have made in recent years in the political arena and in almost every facet of American life.

Understanding Brain Disorders

This course will review anatomy relevant to an understanding of a number of clinical syndromes affecting the human central nervous system, with an emphasis on brain disorders. Some of the clinical topics to be discussed include head trauma, stroke, dementia, and drug addiction, all disorders which occur frequently in older adults. While the overall goal of the class is to increase an understanding of what underlies these disorders, we will also discuss what science is informing us about how we might prevent or decrease risk for them. No background in science is required.

Working Virtues: Essential Moral Skills for a Good Life

We typically think of ethics as problems that periodically call for decisions and choices. Yet the moral life goes on continuously and is best defined not as episodic choices but as streams of practical virtues, or traits that run through our character. These character traits live in us as personal and interactive skills, and it is these skills that both give us our daily orientation and also shape our decisions and choices. This course will define and explore those moral skills that are most important for a good and happy life. The course will draw from a wide range of sources: religious and secular, humanistic, poetic, literary and scientific. Exercises and practical engagement will be a part of each session.

The Division of Government and Community Relations sponsors the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Vanderbilt and is
administered by Vanderbilt's Department of Community, Neighborhood, and Government Relations.