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Arts & Entertainment

Strings, Symphony, and the Stones: Stones Soup

Click on the slide show above to hear student adaptations of the Rolling Stones' music.

It’s safe to say that music plays an integral part in student life — just look at all the pedestrians sporting iPods on Commonwealth Avenue. But stepping inside the College of Fine Arts for a moment shows that at BU music is also serious academic business.

Throughout 2006 and 2007, students have taken part in, and been exposed to, a multitude of musical opportunities, ranging from a performance of Berlioz to a study of the Rolling Stones. This week’s series remembers five of them. Click here for Monday’s story, "Rising: CFA students master Mahler’s Resurrection for Symphony Hall." Check back tomorrow for “Virtuoso-in-Residence: Legendary pianist Menahem Pressler opens series at CFA”.

Stones Soup
Students make the Rolling Stones’ music their own

By Cynthia K. Buccini and Paul Heerlein

Most music classes at the College of Fine Arts favor the sounds of Brahms and Stravinsky. But the tunes students heard in one of CFA Professor Victor Coelho’s courses last fall were the more contemporary stylings of Jagger and Richards.

Coelho’s course, The Rolling Stones: Rock Exiles, explored not just the group’s music, but also its place in popular culture and in rock history. “Popular music courses lie at the intersection of contemporary culture, art, fashion, theater, economics, and technology,” says Coelho, a professor of music and chair of the musicology department. “You can touch on many subjects that appeal to a wide range of student interests.”

To Coelho the Stones are the ideal subject for such a course. For more than 40 years, the group has either anticipated, or adapted to, nearly every trend in popular music, including psychedelic, funk, punk, reggae, rap, disco, and folk, while remaining true to its roots in the blues. “Examining the Stones,” he says, “is taking pop music history in your hands.”

Students had required readings and an exam and, for their final, they had to interpret a Stones song. Six groups and one soloist covered classics like “Play with Fire,” “Under My Thumb,” and “Sympathy for the Devil” during the December recital.

Lorne Svarc (CAS’08), Ashley Rigazio (COM’08), and Matt Dubroff (COM’08) performed an earsplitting punk version of the group’s country song “Dead Flowers.” As the song drove toward its finale, Dubroff abandoned his drums, raised a guitar over his head, and in true punk fashion, hurled it to the ground and stomped it to pieces.

For her final, Lauren Pearl (CAS’09), who has played the guitar since she was a child, performed the Robert Wilkins blues song “That’s No Way to Get Along,” which the Stones later covered. It wasn’t long before the audience was clapping along. “The Robert Wilkins song just plays itself,” she says. “It rolls on. The Stones song has the same feel to it.”

Svarc acknowledges that he and his bandmates are not as well acquainted with their instruments as is Pearl. “So what were we going to do?” he asks. “Punk rock! And we decided at least we’re going to have a good time.”

That’s the idea, too, says Coelho, whose other courses include 16th- and 17th-century music. “I encourage students to work in groups so they can think critically about this music on their own, examine the lyrics, and find multiple interpretations of these pieces and discuss the influences,” he says. “For some, it’s the first time they’ve confronted music on a compositional level.

“I mean, let’s face it, it’s fun, too.”

“Stones Soup” originally appeared on BU Today on January 31, 2007.