From Buddy Holly to the Stones to Pearl Jam: One class rocks out during CentreTerm
February 4, 2010 By Abby Malik
to Cleveland to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, above.
Ellyn Velasco '10 says visiting the Hall of Fame opened her eyes
to "the massive effect that rock music had in our country's history
and pop culture in general."
Early on one morning in late January, 33 Centre College students boarded a charter bus parked outside the College's Norton Center for the Arts. Each slowly climbed on, most with coffee in hand and looking a little sleepy. After instructor Steve Pederson did a head count to make sure everyone was present, the bus left campus at exactly 7 a.m., as scheduled, on its way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, six hours away.
Around 9 a.m., Pederson, deciding enough students were awake, popped "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" into the DVD player. The movie began as the class crossed over the Ohio River into Cincinnati, and more students began to stir.
The film was one of many in the library that Pederson, visiting instructor of music and director of the Centre orchestra, assembled for his CentreTerm class "The History of Rock Music." As one part of course requirements, students had to watch and analyze several films. And the course culminated in this trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
After stopping for lunch about two hours south of Cleveland, Pederson played concert footage from Live Aid '85. This began a discussion of the band Queen, and Ellyn Velasco '10 of Louisville, became a fan.
"One of the main things I got out of this class was a new respect for the band Queen," Velasco says. "I had no idea their performance at Live Aid in 1985 was rated the best live performance in history, over even Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. This class officially made a new Queen fan out of me!"
A chemistry major on the pre-med path, Velasco said she chose this CentreTerm course because she needed a break from her rigorous schedule.
"I love music. Without it, I don't know how I'd survive all-nighters memorizing the crystal structures of simple solids," she says. "My favorite part of the class was our afternoon spent in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It really opened my eyes to the massive effect that rock music had in our country's history and pop culture in general."
"The History of Rock Music" examines the history of rock and roll from the 1950s through the current revolution of new rock. Students studied significant music and live performances from the important rock groups of the past 50 years. One day in class, a live band made up of Centre students performed to help students learn distinctive differences in instrumentals. The band, Outletdown, features Cole Lanigan '09, Landon Berry '10 (class member), Sunil Ramaswamy '10 and Michael Campbell '10 (class member).
Also for this class, Pederson created "The List": 250 of what he deems the great rock and roll songs from 1950 to the present day. The list, from the beginning of the course back in January until now, has created a lot of buzz, with students and other members of Centre's community giving their two cents about what is and what should be on the list. Students also created their own lists.
On the final day of the term, each student brought in a favorite song and played it for the class on Pederson's own professional-quality speakers that he brought from home, giving students the opportunity to hear their favorite songs in an in-depth way they might not have before. Each student explained what made their chosen song special and incorporated what they learned throughout the three-week course.
Landon Berry '10 of Danville, Ky., who took the class because he's "passionate for rock music," says the students learned that rock music has many origins, including early-1900 British folk music, ragtime, jazz, boogie-woogie and blues, to name a few.
"I knew the class would be the perfect opportunity to take an intellectual look into a topic that's usually passed by in the intellectual world," Berry says. "I'll definitely take this knowledge and use it in my band. Now that I know where rock stemmed from and how it's evolved, I can better analyze my own music and look into other styles to enrich it and enhance it."
Berry adds: "My favorite part of the class was Steve Pederson. Steve taught with authority, but he made it fun, just like rock music should be!"
Mark Carr '10, a math major from Louisville, enjoyed how the class "looked deeply into the lyrics of certain songs, such as 'Stairway to Heaven' or 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' and talked about the meanings of each song and how they have had an impact on that certain generation or impacted the world significantly."
Like Velasco, Carr looks forward to using his new rock knowledge.
"The class will help in my conversation with the hardcore rock fanatics, so I can have something to talk with them about, if the opportunity presents itself," he adds.
Kelly Krier '10, of Wilmette, Ill., is a self-proclaimed "rock and roll addict" and grew up listening to "oldies." She didn't have to think twice about taking a college course that incorporated her love of the different aspects of the rock and roll genre.
"Not only were these songs important politically, but they had an impact on society that's still present today," Krier explains. "As a rock and roll fan, I was interested in learning the origins of rock, as well as its evolution through tumultuous decades."
Krier says that Pederson kept the attention of the class every day because he engaged students in the music and showed concert footage and films about rock and roll.
"I can honestly say that I've enjoyed every single class period because of the variety of learning methods and the overall atmosphere of the classroom setting," Krier says. "This class was taught by a music professor who's a classically trained musician. I can now identify the 'hook' in most songs, pick out the tempo and tell you what decade each song is from and why.
"Listening to music has become more than absentmindedly singing along—it's now about picking up characteristics from each decade and really focusing on the lyrics," she adds.
And as most CentreTerm courses are meant to do, "The History of Rock Music" allowed students to "break from 'traditional' school subjects in quite a refreshing way," as Dan Fox '10 puts it.
"The class really helped me learn what rock and roll was all about," says Fox, of Deltona, Fla. "Most of what is portrayed in the media is the 'sex, drugs and rock and roll' slogan, and while that plays a part, rock music and its influences are intellectually and emotionally much, much deeper than that."
Allison Robbins '10, an English major from Lakewood, N.Y., sums up what most students felt about the course: going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was the "Mecca" of the class.
"I know that any song I hear in the future will be looked at differently because of this class," Robbins says.
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