This is how you know you’re teaching a popular course: When the registrar’s office informs you that students
signed up quicker than for the class called “Human Sexuality.”
In the 20 years or so that Ron Albrecht has been teaching, “The History of Rock and Roll,”he has never lacked for students. Maybe it’s the music. Maybe it’s the history. Or maybe the students are enticed by the three-day field trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.
“It’s a fascinating facility, and the students, according to their response papers, absolutely love it,” Albrecht says. “They’re like kids in a candy store.”
But Albrecht points out that the May-term course requires a lot more than simply listening to the oldies. “It’s a great inter-disciplinary course, because it brings in political issues, social issues, cultural issues and musical issues,” he says. “We talk about all these things.”
During the two-week class period, students meet every day for three hours. By the time it’s over, they will have read a book on rock and roll history, written four papers and taken two exams. “I go back to slaves singing in the fields, to African tribal music,” Albrecht says. “I have terrific historic recordings. We’re listening to authentic field hollers from the 1920s, and we look at other influences in rock and roll, such as boogie-woogie and New Orleans-style jazz from the early ’20s.
“That’s an eye-opener for them. They basically think rock and roll goes back to Elvis.”
That’s not all they learn. They study the role of racism in rock’s early history. They examine the British invasion, which Albrecht calls, “the most significant event in pop culture history.”
They look at how music influenced – and was influenced by – the events in the 1960s, including the draft and the Vietnam War.
“We access those events through music, and that’s great,” he says. “The students love it. They often express regret that there’s been nothing in their lives similar to the passion generated by Beatlemania and those other events.”
But the trip to Cleveland remains the highlight. The museum features everything from the jackets worn by the Beatles on the Sgt. Pepper album to the guillotine used onstage by Alice Cooper. At the end of the day, the class eats dinner – at the Hard Rock Cafe, of course.
Albrecht also teaches piano, music theory and Discovering Music. In addition to teaching, he is a performer and a composer.
“My approach has always been that music is music,” he says. “Lots of different parts of music are embedded in our culture. In all my classes, I try to expand their horizons. If they have Beethoven right next to the Beatles on their iPods, I consider that a victory.”
Six questions for Ron: Best rock concert you’ve attended: Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1970
Song on your cell phone: “The River,” by John Fogerty
Favorite Band: Beatles
So much for the next question, Beatles or Rolling Stones: Beatles were much more creative, much more
innovative, much more historically significant. The Stones are a good rythm and blues band, but they didn’t evolve.
Most interesting thing in my office: An African tribal doll that a student gave me after her May-term trip to Zimbabwe.
If I won the lottery, I would: Set up a foundation to help children. I volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and I see a lot of sick children, and the need for a lot of help.