David Leaf is teaching a course on what he said he thinks is the new era of classical music: the Beatles.
The Herb Alpert School of Music is offering the new course this quarter. The course, titled “Music Industry 188: The Reel Beatles,” will analyze the chronological progression of the band’s career during the 1960s. Lectures will feature guest speakers with personal or professional connections to the band.
The course is formatted like a talk show, with an opening monologue and an interview with a different guest speaker each class. Students will view around 70 hours of media as homework over the course of the quarter. Leaf, an adjunct assistant professor of music industry in the school of music, will then share his thoughts on the material at the start of each class.
“My goal is to inspire students to look beyond the fact that the Beatles wrote and recorded more great songs than anybody in history and understand the enormous sociocultural (and) political impact that they had, for better or for worse, on my generation and how what they did is still relevant today,” he said.
One upcoming guest, Peter Asher, hosted Paul McCartney in his family home during their rise to fame in England in 1963, and will tell students about the time when McCartney and John Lennon played him the demo of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Asher and musician Gordon Waller went on to record “A World Without Love,” a song written by McCartney and Lennon that became a No. 1 hit for their band Peter and Gordon.
Leaf said he thinks students will be surprised to discover the Beatles’ lasting impact on the music industry.
“We saw what was really a boy band become one of the most innovative and influential and experimental acts in music,” he said. “The only way you can see how they revolutionized the music industry is to look at how they presented themselves to the world and how the world presented them.”
Leaf said his interest in the Beatles started in 1963 but grew the following year when the Beatles’ music arrived in the U.S.
“In my lifetime, the Beatles have been if not the most important musical experience, certainly in the top three of what mattered to me when I was young and what still matters to me,” Leaf said. “There is a sense that the Beatles still matter in the way that Mozart still matters or Gershwin still matters.”
Leaf has collaborated with Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Yoko Ono on various projects throughout his career, including the documentary “The U.S. vs. John Lennon.” Despite this, he said he feels that it is difficult to get a sense of the Beatles’ impact through talking to the members of the band because he thinks they do not fully grasp the magnitude of their influence.
Ben Schecter, a second-year theater student, said he enjoys the class’ unconventional lecture style.
“It’s a good change of pace,” he said. “It’s more exciting. … There’s an air of theatricality to the whole thing.”
“The Reel Beatles” will be recorded and made available as an online course across the University of California in 2020, Leaf said.
Schecter, who also helps with recording the class, said he is excited to learn about such an iconic musical act through the course.
“They changed the way that we think about superstars and celebrity,” he said. “As someone who’s interested in working (in) the music industry, it’s really cool to see how international superstar groups and the cult of celebrity started.”
Patrick Gardner, a fourth-year psychology student, assists Leaf with the audio during guests’ performances as part of Leaf’s student-led production team. Gardner, who is also pursuing a minor in music industry, said he would recommend the class to anyone interested in the origins of the current music industry.
“Anybody can relate to the Beatles. Even though they’re from our parents’ or grandparents’ generations, we’ve all grown up with them and we can all connect to them,” Gardner said. “(Professor Leaf is) able to … concretely demonstrate that impact.”