A master’s degree on The Beatles — really

Readers of this blog know that I will find any flimsy excuse to write about The Beatles, and I will sometimes do it with no excuse whatsoever. This time I actually have something of a news peg: 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the band’s arrival in the United States, and Feb. 9 is the day they first played on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

In honor of that, here’s some information on how young people are learning about the Beatles so many years after they broke up. Plenty of colleges and universities now have undergraduate courses on The Beatles, their music and their times. For example:

Skidmore College in New York offers a course called The Beatles: An Introduction. From the Skidmore Web site:

MU106. An introduction to the Beatles through their core repertoire, tracing their development from teens in Liverpool, through the years of “Beatlemania,” into their psychedelic and post-psychedelic phases, and finally their dissolution.

Students will (a) learn to recognize the most important parts of the Beatles repertoire (their singles and EPs and selected highlights from albums), (b) be able to place these recordings into appropriate biographical and cultural contexts, and (c) be able to identify the active participants in this history and their contributions.

Classes will be in a lecture format, with discussion of the history, structure, and texts of individual recordings.

Assessment will be through (a) approximately biweekly quizzes and (b) a paper on the Beatles and their repertoire.

 

University of Southern California has offered The Beatles: Their Music and Their Times has been taught for more than 20 years — and was once highly controversial. It isn’t anymore. From the USC Web site:

The purpose of this course is to familiarize the student with the music, lyrics, recordings, personal and public lives, production techniques, career strategy, social ramifications, and technological impact of the musical group known as The Beatles. The goal is to imbue the student with an appreciation for the music itself, a basic understanding of the primitive technology available at the time (both recording and playing back), and a  broader comprehension of the social, economic, political, and cultural upheavals that gave rise to the musical trends of the Sixties.

Instructional Strategy

Each week the professor will present a lecture which will include musical examples, lyrics, and pertinent background information on the four Beatles, their personal and professional dealings, their approach to live performance and studio recording, and the activities of their managerial and production staff. There will also be a section devoted to the viewing of films, pertinent film clips, documentaries, and discussion of the texts led by the teaching assistants.

Typically lectures will be on Mondays and the discussions on Wednesdays.

 

And Indiana University offers The Music of the Beatles. From the Web site:

MUS Z401 – The Music of the Beatles

An in-depth, song-by-song look at the music, lives, and times of the Beatles. The course focuses on the music and is aimed at heightening student listening skills as well as fostering a deeper appreciation for the Beatles’ recordings.

 

But you can get the world’s only master’s degree in The Beatles,  at Liverpool Hope University, in the home town of all four Beatles. The program is titled “The Beatles, Popular Music & Society,” and can be completed over 12 months full time or 24 months part-time. From the school Web site:

 This MA will examine the significance of the music of The Beatles in the construction of identities, audiences, ethnicities and industries, and localities; by doing so it will suggest ways to understand popular music as a social practise, focusing attention on issues such as the role of music in the construction of regional identities, concepts of authenticity, aesthetics, meaning, value, performance, and the use of popular music as a discursive evocation of place. Furthermore, in a consideration of popular music as a text, popular music semiotics will also be employed.

This MA will be of interest to those working in the fields of popular music studies, cultural studies, social anthropology, politics, gender studies, and musicology, among others. Such a course is an essential addition to the discipline of Popular Music Studies.

The first graduates from the program got their degrees in 2011, and the first person to actually receive it was a Canadian singer named Mary-Lu Zahalan-Kennedy, according to this BBC article. She was quoted as saying at the time:

The course was challenging, enjoyable and it provided a great insight into the impact The Beatles had and still have to this day across all aspects of life.

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | February 6