BY JEREMY SHERE
The Beatles were many things: pop icons, movie stars, and, of course, arguably the greatest rock band of all time. But even at the height of their fame in the mid-60s, John, Paul, George, and Ringo probably never imagined that their music would one day be studied at institutions of higher learning. At the IU Jacobs School of Music, Beatles songs are the focus of one of the school’s most popular classes.
“I try to help students hear the subtlety and beauty of the songs, like when John and Paul alternate between tight unison and harmony singing on ‘She Loves You,’” says Glenn Gass, provost professor of music at the Jacobs School, who’s been teaching the Beatles course for over 30 years. “Many students have never thought of popular music as something you pay attention to in that way, and when they do, it comes as a revelation.”
Although Gass’ Beatles class has long been a student favorite, the notion of studying pop music met staunch resistance when he first proposed it in the early ’80s. One musicologist asked Gass point blank how he could justify spending even one hour on such musical garbage. Gass credits then-dean of the music school Charles Webb and Associate Dean Henry Upper with taking a stand. “The deans recognized that we’re not a conservatory but rather part of a university with a mission to explore a wide range of subjects,” Gass says. “Without Dean Webb and Upper’s support, the class would never have happened.”
Today, “The Music of The Beatles” is one of several courses on popular music offered at the Jacobs School. Others include courses on the history of rock, blues history, the music of Frank Zappa, the music of Jimi Hendrix, and the music of Bob Dylan.
In the Beatles class, Gass says, he stays away from academic theorizing and instead encourages students to listen closely and appreciate the music as art. To help contextualize the material, Gass leads students on summer trips to Liverpool to visit the Beatles’ early haunts.
Gass is often told that he has the coolest job in the world, and, as not only an expert on The Beatles but also a lifelong fan, he readily agrees. “Teaching this class is still as fun as it ever was,” he says. “I get to teach music I love to new people every year.”