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Beatles class focuses on music, life, lyrics of group

By Sara Humm
On September 28, 2010

When Assistant Professor of Music Steven McDonald came to OU in 2006, he inherited a class called American and Popular Music.

He wanted to make the topic more specific.

When deciding on an exact topic, there were two trial courses before there was one that stuck. History of Rock and Roll and Music of Swing were each offered for just one semester.

Then McDonald discovered a topic that he thought would thrive.

That's when he decided to change the name to Music and Popular Culture of the 1960s focusing on The Beatles.

"The 1960s was a time for American change," he said. "Music was utterly intrinsic to the way people lived."

The class is being taught for the third year and has a consistent enrollment of 20 to 25.

Sophomore Randi Marolf took the class last year because of her love for the band.

"I took the class because I am a big Beatles fan and I thought it would be a class that I really could enjoy," she said.

Freshman Rebecca Ward said she is taking the class because she loves music.

"For me, music is essential for life. Music, whether it be classical, rock, or anything in-between, has the ability to touch people's souls," she said.

McDonald said the Beatles were seen as much more than musicians.

"The Beatles lives and activities were and are the most important representation of relationships of how music relates to culture, politics and life," he said.

Ward said she knew the famous songs of the Beatles before taking the class, but didn't have the in-depth knowledge of who they were.

"Since taking this class, I have come to respect them, to appreciate the hard work they put into becoming The Beatles, and to realize and appreciate the struggle they went through," she said. "Taking this class has made me realize that they really were just four extremely normal guys who simply refused to give up on their band."

McDonald said while the Beatles were the star of the 1960s and of his class, the class listens to other musical influences including Bob Dylan and the Beatles' competition, the Rolling Stones.

"The Rolling Stones were seen as the anti-Beatles," he said. "The Beatles were the only rock and roll group that parents could trust their daughters with"

Though McDonald said the Rolling Stones were well liked, there were things that made the Beatles stand out above all other musicians.

"The Beatles were more popular and they had a coordinated presentation of themselves," he said. "The Stones were more blatant with their lyrics while the Beatles were more subtle and complex."

McDonald said the class studies various parts of the Beatles' lives and the influences they had. One of the thoroughly studied parts of the class is the lyrics of the band.

"In the class we go through a very detailed examination of lyrics to chart their growth as lyricists and musicians," he said.

Marolf said she liked the class for several reasons.

"My favorite part of the class was listening to all the songs and I found it interesting when some people who took the class said they hated The Beatles but now they love them," Marolf said. "I took the that class because I am a big Beatles fan and I thought it would be a class that I really could enjoy."

McDonald said he encourages student to take the class to open their minds.

"I like opening up students to what seems distant is extremely relevant," he said. "It is a great class for a student to learn something they might think was dull or boring but it's neither."

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