UND Music lecturer Chris Gable looks to take his Rock History summer course mainstream


Brian Johnson

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UND Music lecturer Chris Gable looks to take his Rock History summer course mainstream

Rock and roll isn't dead. It's history with a voltaic pulse.

The predominately youth focused music once considered counterculture is stitched into society's fabric, and nostalgic movies such as "Forrest Gump" would be incomplete without a Rock soundtrack.

More than 60 years after the genesis of rock and roll, the University of North Dakota offers a Rock History summer course covering different genres, history and technological advancements. At the helm is UND music lecturer Christopher Gable, Ph.D., who has been the Rock History front man for the last four years.

"During the school year, I normally teach the 'other side' of music ? purely classical for the most part," Gable said. "This course is a real blast for me to teach each summer."

Gable is a shoe-in for the gig. Since arriving at UND, he has taught Music Theory, Composition, and Introduction to Music Technology . His in-depth knowledge of music structure is critical to his ability to teach the class and is nearly as important as growing up listening to classic Rock records.

Like most of his peers and later generations, Gable grew up on Rock and roll. The Riverside, Calif., native and self-proclaimed "Beatles kid" was obsessed with the Fab Four and had stacks of their LPs. His three older brothers expanded his musical interests, introducing him to a host of heavier 70's Rock bands, including progressive Rock demigods Rush.

“A lot of people call Rush geek Rock because they wrote lyrics about science fiction and elements like that," Gable laughs. "They’re known as a musician’s band. I was drawn to it because of the technical aspect.”

But music has shapeshifted since Gable first took Rush's album 2112 for a spin on his record player. It’s rare to see a band make a 10-minute track like they did in the 70’s. That may be due, in part, to the drastic change in the way people consume entertainment.

"We talk about technological history and how that changed music ? how it’s recorded, received and performed," Gable said. "The typical undergrad will watch a five-minute video on YouTube, and then they’ll move on to the next one."

Even with the changes, it’s healthy for a young person to know what context the band in that five-minute video came from, Gable says. How did this band influence that band and so forth.

"If you listen to the band Green Day, you'll see that they took a page out of the Sex Pistols/Buzzcocks playbook," Gable said. "They're songs are structured just like those late 70's punk bands."

Gable talks about streams of musical styles to make the historical connections between bands.

"The class is really a stylistic study," Gable said. "One of the chapters is purely focused on the British Invasion. You can also talk about Motown, which is happening at the same time, but it's really a different discussion."

Instrumentation is another important cornerstone of any music class. But Rock History is the only course you won't get kicked out for cranking “your amp to 11.”

A student, who happened to be a guitar player, brought his axe to class and wowed the crowd with a pedal-effects demo. Perhaps the iconic Rock instrument, the electric guitar has the ability to make dynamic 90-degree turns and alter a songs mood and texture, giving the player abilities that wouldn't be possible on acoustic instruments.

And while studying instruments played in modern country, Gable exposed a well-kept secret.

"We listened to a Carrie Underwood song, and I said 'The only reason this is considered a country song is that it has a fiddle part and a pedal steel guitar.' If you took those away, it would be a Rock song," Gable said.

Not all of the focus is on the music in Rock History. The group looks at the social history of America and England, including the civil rights movement, Jim Crow laws, the women's movement, Vietnam, student protests, and the Cold War.

Rock music’s ability to connect people from different backgrounds and cultures may also have played a pivotal role in social integration.

"When television was a relatively new thing, white Americans saw African American singers," Gable said. "They saw African American kids dancing on American Bandstand and Soul Train . The country was changing and people heard it in music and television. Hopefully, music has been a force for strengthening the melting pot of American culture."

Moving into the future, Gable plans to offer an online version of Rock History. He also wants to push the course into the fall and spring semesters of the academic year at some point, too. During that time, he will continue to work on his own music compositions.

Gable has learned a lot while teaching this class. He's enjoyed getting to know Country and Rap music. He has respect for Taylor Swift's songwriting and thinks Beyonce' is talented. Ironically, he has also grown fond of a Rock icon that inspired the Beatles he admired so much as a kid.

"I was never a Bob Dylan fan until I started teaching this class," Gable said. "I’ve learned to appreciate him and his lyrics.”

Brian Johnson University & Public Affairs writer

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