About 15 Mercer University students sat on yellow hardback chairs and retro-style couches, spaced out between fixtures like a red drum set, piano, stage and control panel.
Phil Walden Memorial Studio B inside Macon’s historic Capricorn Sound Studios — reopened as Mercer Music at Capricorn in December 2019 — provided the perfect backdrop for Dr. Nathan Myrick’s Understanding Rock ‘n’ Roll class on Oct. 5.
Dr. Myrick, assistant professor of church music, created the course last year as a new professor in Mercer’s School of Music. This is his second time teaching it, and the class is meeting at Capricorn a few times this semester.
Dr. Myrick said the music appreciation course he took as an undergrad focused on European composers and only briefly mentioned jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. He saw a chance to focus on some of the trends that music appreciation courses might not have time to cover.
“As I went through grad school to be a professor, I realized there was an opportunity in music education to unpack and explain things about the world using rock ‘n’ roll and by looking at the actual songs,” said Dr. Myrick, who was in a rock band during his college days.
With Dr. Myrick’s background and the establishment of Mercer Music at Capricorn, it made perfect sense for him to teach this new course for Mercer, said Dr. David Keith, dean of the School of Music.
“A course in rock ‘n’ roll seemed to be a way to connect current students with the history of music that has been very influential in the lives of so many,” Dr. Keith said. “I find it refreshing that it has expanded the curriculum of the School of Music, and I enjoy walking down the hall and hearing all types of music coming from our classrooms. It is quite an aural experience to hear the sounds of Bach, Prince, Mozart, Michael Jackson and Beethoven occurring at the same time in the McCorkle Music Building.”
The course is geared toward non-music majors, although music majors could take it as an elective. It provides historical context to the genres and styles of rock music and looks at the social and economic factors that contributed to it, Dr. Myrick said. It also delves into technological innovations related to rock ‘n’ roll. About a third of the class time is devoted to listening to songs and discussing elements like themes, lyrics, musical styles and production values.
For one assignment, students show a video of a rock song of their choice and talk about it using terminology they’ve learned in class. They also are tasked with watching four rock concerts and writing reports on them.
“I’m teaching students to listen not only to the lyrics of the music but also the cultural resonance and the other implicit meanings of rock music. A major part of rock music is rebellion and cultural critique,” Dr. Myrick said. “Life, music, art, culture … all of these things are intersecting if not synonymous. We can use music as a way of thinking critically.”
Dr. Myrick initially planned to hold his class in one of the upstairs classrooms at Mercer Music Capricorn, but COVID-19 changed that since those spaces didn’t allow for proper social distancing. The class has been meeting in the McCorkle Music Building, with occasional meetings in Studio B when it’s free.
“It’s one thing to explain the cultural significance of rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s an entirely different thing to see how things actually work,” he said. “There’s also a creative energy about being in a creative space. Teaching rock ‘n’ roll, it just feels like a strange pairing to put it in an analytical, sterile environment. I think (the setting) serves a bigger purpose in helping make education transformational.”
Sophomore Kathryn Rhodes, an accounting major, signed up for Dr. Myrick’s course to fulfill an art credit. She said the class and its setting offer a completely different atmosphere and feel from her other courses at Mercer. She was worried the subject matter might be over her head, but that hasn’t been the case.
“Dr. Myrick really focuses on the history and makes us understand why things happen,” she said. “I hope to gain a deeper appreciation for music in general.”
Senior Xander Melnick, a political science major, said he and his best friend signed up for the course together because they play guitar and love rock music.
“I love it. It’s really interesting,” he said. “The way that Dr. Myrick teaches the class makes it so even someone who doesn’t have a music background can keep up and make the connections they need to.”