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Professor who created IU's rock 'n' roll classes to retire



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Jacobs School of Music Rudy Professor Glenn Gass smiles for a headshot. Gass will retire at the end of the school year. Courtesy Photo

The professor who created IU's rock 'n' roll class will retire at the end of the school year. 

In 1982, Glenn Gass’ implementation of rock 'n’ roll courses was unprecedented at other universities and inspired the adoption of rock courses at universities around the country. Gass said he started them to pay his way through graduate school.

During his time at IU, Gass has taught courses on rock history, the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

“You can imagine that any adult was still the right age to hate rock n’ roll,” Gass said. “I had to fight to get the classes offered at all.”

Gass earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in music from IU, but he earned his bachelor’s degree in music from the New England Conservatory of Music.

Gass holds the title of Provost Professor of Music in General Studies. This title is an award from the Provost intended to honor professors who have done significant teaching or research, according to the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty & Academic Affairs.

Through his studies and fascination, Gass has met Beatles-related people such as Hunter Davies, the Beatles' official biography author. He and his wife also met Ringo Starr through Todd Rundgren, an acquaintance and former member of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Gass said that he and Starr conversed about his courses.

Gass said the first course he taught was a Beatles course in the Collins Living Learning Center. The Beatles course inspired an overseas summer course in England, where Gass and students visited historical sites important to the band and its members. The program ended in 2017 because of his upcoming retirement, Gass said. 

The primary goal of his courses was not to teach students the history of music but to introduce it to them and make them fans, Gass said.

“I get a surprising amount of former students writing and telling me they still have my old tapes and still think about my class every time a Rolling Stones song comes on the radio,” Gass said. “That’s the big payback for me.”

Jim Sherman, professor emeritus of psychological and brain sciences, said when word spread on campus that a professor was creating these rock courses, he knew he had to meet him. 

Sherman said Gass does not just play the music in class, but also explores the politics and psychology behind music. 

IU freshmen Lexi Minder and Nicole White are in one of Gass’ rock history classes. Minder studies exercise science, and White studies biology. Minder said she took the class because she heard it was a good arts and humanities course for general education credit. White said she took it for the general education credit as well but also because of a friend's recommendation.

“He has lots of energy all the time,” Minder said. “He’s a little all over the place, but it’s a fun class.”

White said his legacy will be positive.

“You just mention you’re in a rock 'n’ roll class, and people will name drop him,” White said. “I’ve never heard a bad thing about him.”

 Gass said he is retiring because he is able to but also because the timing seemed right.

“The stars just seem to be aligning," Gass said. "It’s 2020. It’s the bicentennial year."

Gass’ youngest son will graduate from IU at the end of the school year, and the dean of Jacobs, Gwyn Richards, is also retiring, Gass said. He said it seemed like a good time to bow out and let new people come in.

He said that he does not know who exactly will be teaching his classes, but he said Jacobs Professor Andrew Hollinden, who already teaches courses about rock and blues, will be taking over his two main rock history classes.

“I’ve had my time, and it’s been great,” Gass said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Hunter Davies name. The IDS regrets this error.

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