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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Class gives DPU students rock 'n' roll experience

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

With little to no band experience when they started three weeks ago, Green Means Go! will be one of eight DePauw bands performing an 8 p.m. concert Wednesday at The Fluttering Duck. The show is the end-of-term project for the Winter Term class The Rock 'n' Roll Experience. Members of Green Means Go! are (from left) Evan Zelesnik, Kevin Wang, Erin Horne, Jacob Dickey and Zack Baker.
Are you experienced?" Jimi Hendrix asked at the end of his debut album. "Have you ever been experienced?"

Well, 24 budding DePauw musicians have.

As the university's Winter Term wraps up this week, the students of "The Rock 'n' Roll Experience" are finishing a crash course all things rock, with a special emphasis on what it takes to be a band.

The class culminates this week with the eight bands recording songs on Tuesday and performing onstage Wednesday.

The concert features every group in the class and is slated for 8-11 p.m. Wednesday at the Fluttering Duck at The Inn at DePauw.

The "experience" was started two years ago by Rich Martoglio, a chemistry professor and self-taught musician who has played "in a variety of garage bands that never left the garage."

As someone who continues to be a consumer of rock music, Martoglio wanted to examine what rock 'n' roll means from the perspectives of fans, of historians and of musicians.

"This class serves as a way to explore rock 'n' roll, the forces that have shaped music now," Martoglio said.

Interested in the concept when Martoglio started the class, communication and theater professor Jonathan Nichols-Pethick told Martoglio he'd like to help if Martoglio ever brought the class back.

"This is the first time we've done this together, which has been great," Martoglio said of this year's class.

For Nichols-Pethick, who played in various bands in New England and Southern California, the course has been a great way to reconnect to his former life outside academia.

"It's allowed me to re-energize that part of my life that I had lost for about a decade," Nichols-Pethick said.

The added element that separates the "experience" from a simple rock history class is the performance aspect.

The class started on a Wednesday and by Friday students had divided up into eight different bands.

Both teachers observed that actually forming a band can be a difficult task, so the format of the class jumpstarts the process.

From there, the bands have had less than three weeks to figure out their sound, name the band, learn to play together, develop a setlist and write at least one original song.

"In all cases, it's working," Nichols-Pethick said. "I think some of these bands might stay together."

While the two professors facilitate discussions in the daily classes, the direction the music takes is squarely on the students' shoulders.

Those directions vary widely, from the simple acoustic harmonies of The Undergrads to the big sound of Vorshlaghammer (German for sledgehammer), a six-piece that utilizes saxophone and the little-used keytar in addition to guitar, bass and drums.

The level of experience in the various bands also differs greatly.

The Edukators are a blues-rock driven power trio composed of drummer Brian Mincks, guitarist and singer Joe Buckley and bassist Doug Tipsword.

With members possessing several years of experience in bands, the Edukators have a pretty refined sound for a group that got together earlier this month.

Even an impromptu jam by Mincks and Buckley, awaiting a tardy bassist, produces an impressive sound.

"We try to throw a lot of sounds all together," Mincks says of their music.

At the other end of the experience spectrum lies Green Means Go!, a quintet featuring singer Erin Horne, guitarist Zack Baker, bassist Jacob Dickey, drummer Evan Zelesnik and Kevin Wang on keyboards.

This band's rock experience varies from little to none, including a drummer who used to play in his church band and a singer who says she's previously uttered a total of four lines into a microphone.

"We have very humble roots," Zelesnik said.

"I play the violin," Baker added. "What happened?"

The members of Green Means Go! describe themselves as indie rock, "but we're certainly exploring our borders," Zelesnik says.

With a mind to how a band markets itself, there are also lessons in how a band can shape its image and let listeners know what kind of sound it has.

One assignment asked groups to design a flyer for a show, with an ensuing discussion about what the choice of artwork says about a band and its sound.

Even the seemingly simple task of naming a band is a big step in its marketing.

One member of Green Means Go! wanted to call the band Doomhammer, but their sound is neither that of doom nor hammers.

They finally decided on Green Means Go!, paying attention even to the exclamation point at the end.

"We're something to get excited about," Baker said of the choice of punctuation.

It's that excitement that makes the class so engaging. Taking the music and making it an academic exercise doesn't change the fact that it's still rock 'n' roll. (Thank you, Mr. Joel.)

And rock 'n' roll is supposed to be fun.

"The students are very talented and they have a lot of enthusiasm and energy," Martoglio said. "It's easy to get excited about the class. The students make it great."

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