John Covach proved that popular music can be the subject of scholarly pursuit in his lecture Wednesday night in the Hawkins-Carlson Room in Rush Rhees Library. The lecture, “The Beatles: From Craft to Art,” was given on behalf of the Office of Alumni Relations. Covach teaches theory at the Eastman School of Music.

Covach spoke about how the Beatles changed music in both America and the UK and how they grew musically and lyrically between 1964 and 1967, changing from “craftsmen” into “artists.” He noted that music scholars have traditionally ignored popular music in favor of classical music but have embraced it in recent years.

“It’s surprising because pop music is so easy,” Covach said.

However, he added, artists like the Beatles produce music that, while simple, is culturally significant and influential enough to warrant serious critical analysis.

The first part of Covach’s lecture focused on the Beatles’ rise to prominence. Covach said that they were influenced by U.S. pop bands.

“Just how British was the British Invasion?” he asked.

When the Beatles did strike it big in America, they were mildly innovative but repeatedly used the same successful elements, the sign of craftsmen.

Covach cited songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” that use the standard AABA format and lack provocative or thoughtful lyrics. It was not until later albums, such as “A Hard Day’s Night,” that the Beatles focused on more introspective lyrics and took advantage of the resources of the recording studio.

Covach used “Penny Lane” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” as examples of the Beatles’ transition to artists. By the time those songs came out, he said, the Beatles were constantly innovating instead of repeating their past successes. Covach mentioned the interesting lyrical flow of “Penny Lane.”

Covach is the author of “What’s That Sound?”

Wrobel is a member of the class of 2010.



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