KU to get schooled in rock 'n' roll culture

Friday, October 17, 2003

Take those old records off the shelf because it's time to attend the school of rock.

Kansas University's Continuing Education series' school of rock that is.

For the next four weeks, "Hail, Hail Rock 'n' Roll!: Musical Roots and Cultural Power" will present an in-depth study of the beloved genre and the influences that inspired it.

"We will be looking at the musical ingredients of rock 'n' roll," says Roberta Freund Schwartz, KU professor of music and dance, who will be leading two of the sections.

"Things like form; how are rock songs put together?; tricks used to pull you into a song; what are rock melodies generally like?; what are rock harmonies like? We will be trying to develop a vocabulary to talk about rock 'n' roll."

The other two sessions will be instructed by radio personalities Chuck Haddix and Bill Shapiro. Haddix will lead a section titled "The Roots of Rock 'n' Roll. The discussion will trace the progressions from early vocal groups such as The Orioles and The Ravens, as well as the primary influences of blues and R&B.

Shapiro, in a lecture dubbed, "Early Greats of Rock 'n' Roll," will explore the major influence artists such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Chuck Berry (pictured) had on the development of the style. He will trace the roots of the genre until the British Invasion.

Freund Schwartz will lead the lectures, "The Essence of Rock 'n' Roll" and "Rock 'n' Roll across the Atlantic." As a professor of the history of rock 'n' roll at KU, the topic is not new to her, but the way she will teach it is.

"I will be illustrating how different kinds of rhythmic profiles show up in rock 'n' roll," she says. "And I will to do so with the help of Marvin Hunt's band, LeRoy Brown and the Gold Combo. So instead of the usual snippets I have to rely on, I can have them give me live examples."

Have you seen the bridge?

Freund Schwartz, who has a doctorate from the University of Illinois, has been interested in rock since the age of 14.

"As far as the University of Illinois is concerned, my minor area of study for my Ph.D. is African American Urban Popular Music, which encompasses jazz, blues and rock 'n' roll, so I actually did a lot of studying," she says. "But most of what I know comes from a lifetime of listening to rock 'n' roll."

Even though she has studied the entire spectrum of the genre, for Freund Schwartz it all comes back to the inspiration of one band.

"To put it quite simply, Led Zeppelin," she says. "One of my first boyfriends turned me on to them when I was 14 and they are still my favorite band. Even though I have done a lot of listening, it all comes back to Led Zeppelin."

  • What: University of Kansas Continuing Education series, "Hail, Hail Rock 'n' Roll!: Musical Roots and Cultural Power."
  • When: 2 to 4 p.m., beginning Sunday, continues Sundays through November 9.
  • Where: Lawrence Community Theatre, 1501 N.H. Registration. The price is $12 per session or $48 for all four.
  • Walk-in registration on Sunday is encouraged. Please arrive 20 to 30 minutes early.
  • For more informaion visit, www.kuce.org or call 864-5823.

Freund Schwartz is not only quite knowledgeable about the influence of rock in the United States but also of its origins in England. Her fascination with Led Zeppelin helped to bridge the gap between the two countries.

"As a fan, if Jimmy Page mentioned that Robert Johnson was an influence, I would go out and read all I could about Robert Johnson," she says. "Through researching things like this, I began following these threads and found the merger between rock in the U.K. and blues."

"In the U.K., they essentially introduced blues back into rock 'n' roll," she says. "Ironically it takes the British invasion with bands like The Rolling Stones to bring that fusion back to the United States."

My old school

Despite the influence from Led Zeppelin, Freund Schwartz's lectures will focus mainly on the fundamentals and construction of rock up until 1965. One of the main objectives of her sections will be to increase the awareness of the musical elements of the genre.

"When I teach rock 'n' roll, I try to get people to focus on rock as music," Freund Schwartz says. "That seems simple but most knowledge about rock is generally biographical. Or it is about the social history surrounding it. People often avoid talking about the music as if it is really MUSIC."

Through her lectures, Freund Schwartz hopes to train the listener to hear other elements of the music that will ultimately make it more enjoyable.

"You get more out of the music by knowing what to listen for," she says. "One important skill is learning to listen to the bottom. In music like Motown, there is a lot going on in that orchestration. You need to learn how to let the melody and guitar wash by you and focus in on the other parts. That is a skill that has to be developed."

Even though she is unsure of exactly what material Haddix and Shapiro will be teaching, Freund Schwartz is sure the class will enrich the knowledge of all music fans. Whether one is new to the genre or a die-hard rock junkie, the classes will provide entertaining information.

"Certainly this class will give people a really good foundation in how to listen to all kinds of rock 'n' roll," she says. "If you do not know early rock 'n' roll very well, it should be really interesting. It will bring out all kinds of things you never even thought to listen for."