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History of Rock and Roll class in spotlight

This summer’s History of Rock and Roll class, taught by Assistant Professor of Music Nick Wallin, was featured in a Chicago Tribune story that focused on local classes exploring the genre.

Lake Forest schools spend the summer rockin’

By Mark Lawton  |  Chicago Tribune

From July 10 to 22, a cacophony of sounds emanated down the second-floor hallway of the history department at Lake Forest Academy. 

Instead of instructors talking about the American Revolution or Herodotus, the five classrooms were filled with teens practicing rock songs as they prepared for a concert with their newly formed bands. About 140 aspiring young musicians participated in Camp Jam, a nationwide music camp, said Chuck Shafer, the administrative director for the Chicago area program. 

The teens alternated between practicing in a classroom, playing on the auditorium stage and learning about music recording, said Freddy Penserini, camp director. 

In the evenings, camp participants worked on side projects, created music videos and took part in an open mic event.

On July 20, participants asked questions of musician David Paige and his band members. One boy asked what the singer thinks of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“The Chili Peppers changed my life,” Paige said. The audience cheered.

Another person asked about the hardest part of being a musician.

“The hardest part for me was being persistent,” Paige said.

While the camp participants could work on different styles of music, it was the rock sounds of Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Who that echoed from the auditorium stage.

Sam Banister, 14, of Paducah, Ky., was onstage playing guitar for the song “Time” by Pink Floyd.

“Camp Jam got me into wanting to get into recording,” Banister said. “Last year got me familiar with basic recording.”

The challenge of Camp Jam is forming a temporary band with strangers. 

“It’s interesting to be put in with people you don’t know and pick two songs and perfect them in four-and-a-half days,” said bass player Grace Brady, 15, of Hinsdale.

Meanwhile four miles to the east, Assistant Professor of Music Nicholas Wallin is teaching summer students about the social, cultural and historical aspects of rock ‘n’ roll during his History of Rock & Roll course at Lake Forest College.

Though the summer atmosphere is casual, the month-long course is intense.

“The hardest thing about teaching a survey class is you try to speak about everything,” Wallin said.

During a July 18 class, Wallin discussed the blues-based British tradition, jazz influences on rock and vice versa, bands moving their focus from individual songs to creating albums, progressive rock, glam rock, musicians who rejected both progressive and glam and so on. 

He plays numerous rock songs over the room’s speaker system and asks students to pay attention to the structure. 

Eric Arnold, a music major, finds the concept of genres interesting.

“It’s cool to have some guidelines on form,” he said.

Phillip Marshall, an environmental studies major, likes finding musical connections.

“The way the professor talks about these things, you can hear it suddenly,” Marshall said. “You can see influence between songs and what influenced the song. Jazz, blues and country influenced the rock of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.”

Those influences can go beyond music on music. Issues of race, class and gender can all inform rock, Wallin said.