Professor John Covach is the Chair of the College Music Department and not your typical professor. In addition to having an authoritative background in twelve-tone music, Covach is also an accomplished author and teacher in the world of popular music. He authored the textbook currently used in his History of Rock Music class and hosts a radio show on WRUR titled “Radio Rock.” He is also guitarist for the Rochester-area band Land of Chocolate.

What are your goals for your History of Rock class?

What I’m trying to do is teach a traditional music history class with rock music as the repertoire. It’s no easier or happier, though it may be more fun to learn about, but I’m not trying to make it snazzy. This is a serious minded course about understanding a particular musical repertory that expands for over fifty years.

I try to think of the class as one in critical thinking, with the bait as rock music. It’s the way we think the issues through that is really what I’m trying to teach – thinking the problem and the situation along with the historical people that were involved.

Why did you decide to study twelve-tone music as a student?

When I was going to music school, you couldn’t really focus on popular music. I had a career as a rock musician and decided to go to school because I wanted to have a real job. Back in those days, the most edgy stuff was happening in twelve-tone music and modern music. So I devoted a lot of my time to it and came back to popular music because there was interest in having people do that inside music departments. The last ten years things have really changed. Now students do dissertations on pop music.

Are there similarities between studying twelve-tone music and popular music?

I have to say the older I get, the less differences I see between the different styles of music. I don’t have any problem moving from Schoenberg and Stravinsky to the Smashing Pumpkins and the Beatles. It all just seems the same activity in different ways. My History of Rock textbook, for all intents and purposes, could have been a history of music in the baroque or music in the classical period. That’s exactly the way I approached writing it.

What’s your radio show all about?

The show is on WRUR at Thursdays from 7-9 p.m. The purpose of the show is to defy the usual expectation of radio formats. I play music drawn broadly from the entire history of rock, and I try to arrange the songs so that the transition is as abrupt, stylistically, as it can be, but all guided by a sense of historical fairness. My idea is that in order to understand rock music you need to understand the entire repertoire, not just what we’ve been told is the cool stuff.

Fountaine is a member of the class of 2008.



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