Rock and roll call at SVC

New college course has a beat you can dance to

  • Thursday, May 25, 2000 9:00am
  • News

“It looks at first glance like any other Skagit Valley College classroom – students at desks taking notes, textbooks open, a teacher at the lectern reviewing her lecture notes. But you sense there’s something a little different going on here.Perhaps that’s because Diana Ross and the Supremes are bellowing out Stop in the Name of Love from a prominent boombox at the head of the class.A young man in khaki shorts and ball cap has kicked off his shoes and taps out the beat with his bare toes. Others bob their heads or rap their fingers in tempo. A 20-something woman in the back row sings along and characteristicly thrusts her open palm forward on the word stop.Motown is the flip side of soul, instructor Sharon Ringer says to kick off her lecture.Welcome to a sort of flip side of the hallowed halls of higher education. Welcome to Rock: A Social History. A course that explores rock and roll music’s place in world history, politics, culture and human rights.That, as ’60s hippies might say, is quite a trip.This is a whirlwind tour, Ringer said about the twice-a-week class. Having only 11 weeks causes us to talk fast. We had to cover the Beatles in one hour. During one recent class, Ringer covered not only Motown but dived into the ’60s San Francisco sound, the psychedelic era and Woodstock as well. But what is rock and roll, the very essence of rebellion and counterculturalism, doing in such a bastion of the establishment as a college classroom, surrounded by the likes of Socrates, Shakespeare, Newton and Brahms?Well, the fact is the music that many 1950s disk jockeys said has got to go, is still very much with us, Ringer said – a social fixture from the streets to the boardrooms. If you trace its roots back to gospel, country and blues, rock’s history is nearly as long as America’s. Whole generations can now relate various historic moments with the rock music of the time.It is the most important popular music of the 20th century and it’s had an influence on all other types of music, said Ringer. She added that rock has been a reflection of human life. Society has affected the music and at times the music has affected what was going on.Rock history is taught on many college campuses these days. Mick Donahue, vice president of the Whidbey campus of Skagit, decided last year to try something other than traditional music appreciation classes the college had been offering. He and Ringer came up with both the three-credit rock and roll class and a history of jazz class as new courses this year.They filled up fast.I like ’50s rock and roll and I listen to it all the time, so this was a way to get credits doing something I enjoy, said student Michelle Creger.The 18 students in the current rock class write weekly reports, take quizzes and finals, make presentations and turn in term papers just like in other classes. Ringer said students who sign up thinking it will be an easy course are in for a shock. The vast majority of the students are not musicians. They have an interest in music but generally no formal training. As a result, the lectures shy away from musician terminology and concepts. Several of the students expressed a more interest in music of preceding generations than of their own.The class has been real interesting. I like the early stuff – the girl groups and doo-wop – not so much the hard rock, said student Nichole Daniel.Another student, Jessica Seville, agreed.I’m a big fan of Elvis Presley so that has been my favorite part, she said. Seville said the class has been more than she expected and has taught her a lot.Ringer uses documentary video tapes to give students a visual as well as aural perspective on different musical eras. Whether it’s the highly choreographed movements of the Temptations or the drug-inspired light shows of Jefferson Airplane, Ringer said the performance is often as much a part of rock as the music itself.You can’t just listen to James Brown, you have to see him perform, she said.Skagit’s rock and roll class will return next winter quarter with Ringer’s history of jazz class preceeding it in the fall.Class members say the course is packed with information and surprising details. For instance, said student Luke Houglum in his folk music presentation, the renowned singing group is actually Peter, Paul and Mary and Dick. Dick Kniss has been the trio’s full-time string bass player for more than 24 years. Far out.”

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