Stanford Daily Online, February 27, 1997

Class to focus on rock 'n' roll history

By Connie Chang
Contributing writer

A new course will be offered next quarter: Music 192D: "Creative Processes in Popular Music Recording," will focus on a selective history of rock 'n' roll and may possibly entertain enrolled students with guest appearances by artists. The course is a product of efforts made by Assoc. Music Prof. Chris Chafe, the department's chair, to make the music major a more viable option for students.

Dan Levitin, the Music 192D instructor, holds a doctorate in cognitive science and has worked as a producer and engineer for more than 75 musical recordings. He has also worked as a musician, a rock journalist, a music production editor and a record producer. He has also been awarded four gold records.

"I guess I felt like I was lucky enough to have had this amazing experience for almost 15 years," Levitin said. "I started out playing in bands in smoky clubs where nobody came to hear me," he said. "I somehow managed to get to a place in the business working for Columbia Records where I got to decide which musicians to sign and record." "I've gotten to either record or interview most of my heroes in music. So I thought I was in a good position to teach a class like this," he added. The course will take an in-depth look at the creation of popular music and critique various musicians' abilities to capture sincerity and intimacy in the artificial environment of the recording studio. Students will also explore the influence of recording technology on music, Levitin said. The majority of class time will be spent listening to music at full volume and discussing it, he said. Homework assignments will consist of listening to the music of specifically assigned musicians who have made important contributions to rock music and then answering questions about the selections.

Levitin's list of potential musicians to be covered includes Stevie Wonder, Michelle Shocked, Aimee Mann, Julia Fordham, The Carpenters, Lindsay [sic] Buckingham, Suzanne Vega, Linda Ronstadt, Van Halen and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. He will focus on eight groups or artists chosen from his list. Aside from analyzing these artists' music, Levitin has tentatively arranged for some of the performers themselves - or someone associated with them - to come and speak about their work. "I chose people that I know personally and whose music I know well, because I can do a better job of teaching if I am familiar with the person and the music," he said. Another consideration in choosing the artists was their ability to speak intelligently about their own work. "The musician must be articulate. . . . They have to know exactly what they are doing and be able to explain it to someone else," he said. Finally, Levitin chose artists based on their contribution to rock music and his assessment of their lasting impact on the industry. "You can argue that someone like Joan Osborne or Jewel may someday make an important contribution, but it's too early to tell. You need the perspective of time to evaluate impact. Some of the musicians that are being studied probably did their best work 10 or more years ago," he said. After working on 75 records, "you begin to hear things you've never heard before. It allows you to get inside the head of the musician who made the record and listen to the things they are listening for," said Levitin. He added that he wants to teach people to listen to music in the same way as the musicians themselves. "I have done about 150 interviews and learned a lot by talking to musicians. I want to pass that on to the class and get them thinking about hearing music in a different way," he added. Levitin taught a similar class at Stanford five years ago, and enrollment exceeded the limit. Next quarter's class will be held in Campbell Recital Hall, which, according to Levitin, is the biggest room with the highest quality of sound. Sign-ups for the class will be held on March 31; the course is open to all students.

Thanks to Karen for posting this to the Ledge and to Anusha for formatting and sending it to us.