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  • Savannah Carr

New Beatles course emerges in PBA music department

Photo courtesy of Leah Carr

This fall, your assignment may have been to listen to the Beatles' “I Feel Fine." This specialized music course only offered every couple of years, is instructed by Professor Michael O’Conor and delves into the iconic British rock band.

O’Connor has always had a deep passion for music as a whole. He majored in music education at Tennessee Tech University, where he earned his undergraduate degree. At PBA, he teaches multiple music courses and directs various musical ensembles on campus.

“I (established) and direct the Early Music Ensemble and the World Music Ensemble, which includes Irish Traditional Music, Salsa, Bossa Nova and even a polka band," said O’Connor. “I also (oversee) the brass ensemble.”

When O’Connor contemplated creating a new special-topic music class, the idea for the Beatles course quickly emerged.

“I’ve done other classes. I did an entire class on rock music in 1971,” said O’Connor. “But I thought about the Beatles because I grew up with them. I discovered them as a teenager.”

O’Connor’s enduring affection for the Beatles is apparent in his teaching. In the class, he shares his admiration for the Beatles through his expertise, various video clips and the textbook titled "The Gospel According to the Beatles."

Despite the controversial history of the Beatles, O’Connor’s class proposal did not receive much pushback.

“I imagine there were some who raised an eyebrow at the idea,” said O’Connor. “I think the provost at the time kind of questioned the idea.”

O’Connor believes, as Christians, it is necessary to be knowledgeable about the outside world, without endorsing or supporting the values.

The class is more than listening to their music -- it is also an in-depth look at the change as the Beatles grew, and their impact on culture at the time.

Naturally, the course focuses on the musical aspect of the Beatles, but also the societal and psychological impact of the band.

The course dives into the Beatles' songs and how their style transformed the music landscape. From their early “skiffle” sound to their later folk sound, students gain insights into every aspect of their musical journey.

“At first I was going to touch on every single Beatles song. I quickly found that was not going to happen,” said O’Connor. “Now, it is the ones that help tell their story -- from both a social and musical journey.”

O’Connor is not the first university professor to teach a course devoted to a musical group. The University of Rochester has a virtual Beatles course and The University of Pittsburgh has a Led Zeppelin Course.

Melody Thomas, one of the students enrolled in O’Connor’s course sheds some light as to why these courses are so popular.

“I really like the class because I get to learn more about a band that used to be well-known and still is,” said Thomas. “At first I didn’t know any of the members. Now I know them, their history and their music history. I find this class really fun to learn.”

Professor Sean Radford, the coordinator of the popular music program, reiterates this opinion.

“To study the music of The Beatles academically is really to study a major turning point in contemporary music, sort of like the Renaissance,” said Radford.

Radford also associates aspects of music today, such as forms of songs, as having been inspired by the Beatles’ music.

This course not only contributes to your academic grade but can also count as a "Faith, Roots and Reason" course credit, as stated in the email announcing the course's return this fall.

Even though the course is not offered every fall, students will likely still have the chance to take it before graduating from PBA.

“About every three years, the course is offered,” said Professor O’Connor. “So every PBA student has at least one opportunity to take it.”

By Savannah Carr

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