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Davis, California

Friday, May 17, 2024

School of Rock

Covering the history, evolution, social significance and musical aspects of rock music through the ages – spanning from the blues to punk and new wave – this relatively new course has been consistently popular with students, as shown by its lecture hall-sized class and high attendance despite its morning time slot.

As a part of Music 106: History of Rock Music, students will study artists and get the opportunity to create and perform their own original music in a concert, the next one occurring Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Main Theatre.

[The course] was started [approximately] 7 years ago by Chris Reynolds, who originally taught the class … I’m very lucky and grateful for the chance to be a part of this, said current MUS 106 professor Robert Sabino.

Music Professor Christopher Reynolds said he wrote to his colleagues in 1996 from his fellowship in Florence, Italy, pleading with them to start such a course. They replied that if he wanted it so much, Reynolds should just start it himself.

I grew up listening to rock and playing classical music, like many successful music professors of my generation. By the ’90s, rock classes were springing up at universities all over the country, but I think the course at Davis was one of the first at a UC campus, Reynolds said. I wanted it to be a class that involved actual music making and song writing. I had no idea how many talented musicians there were…. The course completely changed my ideas about how musical people are, whether or not they become music majors.

Sabino said he structures the class so that students appreciate other forms of music besides rock, such as classical, because there’s so much crossover and influence between the genres. For example, Sabino has the class simultaneously study Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and opera because of the song’s use of traditional opera elements.

We also get jazz appreciation in the class; I have the students listen to Miles Davis and then [watch recorded] interviews with Jimi Hendrix, who listened extensively to Davis and felt influenced by him, Sabino said.

Sabino’s extensive personal history with rock music also makes the class worthwhile. A keyboardist himself, he has played with the likes of Madonna, Simon & Garfunkel and David Bowie. Recently, he had Peter Frampton, whom he had also played with in the ’70s, come to the university to talk about his work.

[Peter Frampton’s visit] was probably the high point of the class for me…. It was a complete shock, said senior classical civilizations major Kaylie Marr, who also said that Sabino kept the visit a secret. [At first, Frampton] talked a little bit to us about music history and his experience … but it seemed like such a shame for him to come all this way and not play something for us, so someone begged him to play two songs, [which he did].

The assignments the students get are also interesting in their own right. All students must pick two out of several listed assignments, which include doing an oral history, like an interview with a parent who was around for the rock ‘n’ roll era, or an analysis on an artist’s website, album or song.

Those who feel more confident in their music-creating ability can opt to do two less traditional-sounding electives – write a blues and rock song or choose to be a part of a rock band.

Students who choose to write music must work in small groups of three or four, whereas the band itself can consist of seven to 17 members, whose instruments can include traditional guitars and drums to a horn and keyboard ensemble. Because of high interest in the latter option, Sabino held auditions to ensure students knew what they were doing musically and to group students together fairly.

[Sabino] has a lot of experience with this stuff, so he’s pretty intelligent about how he makes the groups, said Navid John Zamani, a sophomore psychology major who chose to do both the song-writing and performance options. [My friend Richard and I] wrote music together with two other girls who wrote the lyrics. [Richard and I] are both doing the band together too, so Rob just gave our songs back to us.

According to Zamani, the auditions were held a few weeks into class, and his group has been practicing two to three times weekly ever since. Each band must perform two original songs made by the song-writing groups and assigned by Sabino, and then they must choose two additional songs of choice to cover. Because the members generally do not know each other prior to practicing the pieces, he described the first meeting as kind of awkward. However, after his group got a feel of each other, they were able to work things out instrumentally after a few plays.

Sabino said the department holds these concerts in order to demystify [the idea that only some people have] musical ability and that everyone has some inherently. One of the things he enjoys most about the class is seeing students’ positive reactions to obscure tracks he plays.

Sabino also said he enjoys the fact that though the class is more aimed towards non-music majors; often there are students in his class who really love rock music, whom he ends up learning things from.

Two of my best friends just graduated and they were both angry they didn’t take [this class], said Ruth Cervantes, a senior English major. I say it’s helpful to have the intro course which is listed as a prerequisite, but if you’re eager, you can totally do great.

The course will be offered next during Summer Session II, and the upcoming student concert will be Sunday at the Main Theatre, in Celeste Turner Wright Hall at 7p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door.


CHRISTINE VU can be reached at arts@californiaaggie.com.



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