Course on The Beatles is coming to Alameda
By Lou Fancher
Rhythmix Cultural Works' first foray into music history is a four-course dive into the Fab Four phenomenon with the best homework any student will ever encounter.
There's a recommended reading list, but the main requirement is listening to the five albums covered in the course.
Participants attending "The Beatles: Their Five Great Albums from 'Rubber Soul' to 'Abbey Road'" on Mondays beginning Jan. 25 will join Carnegie Mellon University music professor Stephen Schultz in the community cultural arts center's 4,000-square-foot theater that boasts a Meyer Sound system and seating for up to 175 people. Rhythmix Cultural Works is located at 2513 Blanding Ave.
"The class seems to be garnering quite a bit of interest as there are already 40 students signed up and we still have a few weeks to go before it starts," Rhythmix Executive Director Tina Blaine said. Commonly known by her stage name, "Bean," Blaine used to teach at Carnegie Mellon, and she and Schultz are married. The Beatles course he teaches at the college is popular, initially attracting 75 students but now regularly filling up at nearly 200 students with a waiting list. Schultz is on sabbatical, prompting Blaine to invite him to teach what she calls "a mini-Beatles course."
Schultz is known in the Bay Area, nationwide and internationally as a solo and principal flute player as well as an 18th century music expert. He performs locally with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Musica Angelica, as well as with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Apollo's Fire, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Wiener Akademie and more. The list of recordings on which he appears numbers close to 60. Although he teaches other cours- es in rock and jazz history, he said the Beatles class is the most popular.
"College students start the course, some of them, not knowing the music well," he said. "Halfway through, they've got all the Beatles' music on their playlists and are listening to it constantly."
Schultz said his primary professional focus has long been on classical composers: Bach, Mahler, Beethoven and others. But because he grew up in the 1960s, the band's impact is indelible. He remembers riding home on the school bus and hearing his first Beatles song, "I Want To Hold Your Hand."
"Everything that came out, it just turned me on," he said. "Their music was intricate. As they developed, they kept on delving into other realms, using string quartets, electronic manipulation. They were great songwriters."
His admiration for the Beatles' tightly constructed melodies and harmonies initially outweighed his appreciation for the lyrics. But when they "graduated" from "love you" songs to introspective songs like "Tomorrow Never Knows," a track on the "Revolver" album that is the first pop song without a rhyme scheme, that component became equally fascinating.
"They then set lyrics as you speak," he said. "'Good Morning Good Morning' is consciously set to a talking style."
The hard-hitting song on the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album changes meter nearly every measure -- rhythmic patterns shift in small segments of time -- to match natural speech patterns.
Recording innovations including tape loops, sped up vocals and other non-real time manipulations impress Schultz because they were done without the "bells and whistles" available to today's musicians.
"Their first albums, they spent 10 hours in the recording studio," he said. "They spent 500 to 600 hours to record their final albums."
Shultz believes "Sgt. Pepper" is the band's most culturally and historically significant recording. "It's the pinnacle of their work together," he said. "After that, it's like a long divorce with them not wanting to be together."
His favorite album is "Revolver," the band's seventh studio album recorded in 1966.
"What they do musically and experimentally is amazing," he said. "The variety. From LSD-inspired rock to the Indian-influenced 'Love You To," every song is its unique world."
The Beatles' cultural influence and how they reflected the turbulent world of the 1960s is as much an element of the course as is the musical investigation.
"I think those things are codependent. That's what makes them so powerful and attractive," Schultz said.
Asked how the band would fare in the digital, 21st century world, he has no doubt the Beatles raw talent would make them no less a phenomenon.
"It was a musical stew and they all created it together," he said. "They would exist in any time period."