higher education

By Ryan "Shep" Shepard
Dec. 18, 2001

Back in September of this year, many people on the nancies.org message boards caught wind of an interesting class at Oberlin College in Ohio. It was Tim McKay's "Dave Matthews Band - Music and History"; a semester-long course on the boys from Virginia. When I first heard about it, I thought someone was just having fun at our collective expense - however, it was the truth. A two-credit course, meeting weekly.

McKay, a third year percussion performance major, had become a fan of the DMB back in 1996, upon receiving a copy of Under the Table and Dreaming for his birthday. Since then, he'd been collecting shows and filling a scrapbook with articles on the band, having a deep love for their music. During his time at Oberlin, he learned of a program called EXCO (Experimental College). Designed for students to teach classes on the subjects of their choice, Tim realized that no one had taught a class on the Dave Matthews Band. He submitted a syllabus to the EXCO committee in April 2001, and it passed later on that month.

The class itself is enough to make any die-hard fan switch up schools, go back, or graduate early from high school. It runs the gamut from the music itself to the band member's individual lives; it also centers heavily on structural and lyrical analysis. McKay even manages to cover the "taper culture" and bootlegging live shows, something I'm sure many of you are familiar with. Says McKay, "We do a lot of listening in the class - to all styles (acoustic, studio and live versions of the songs)...we get into the history of the song, its meaning, interpretations, poetic devices and other stuff."

The class of 13 came in wanting to learn different things, but it seemed that a common theme was the desire to learn general information. Hailey MacNear, from Davis, California, said that "...I didn't know much about if anything about the band itself, like the individual members, the history of the band, or the history of certain songs." She does admit, however, to having been a "huge DMB fan for a long time." Concert attendance wasn't as consistent among the group, however; some folks had seen upwards of 15 shows, versus some who hadn't ever attended one. The class, however, did try to make up for that; McKay would play multiple live versions of one song. He would also feature certain parts of shows so the class could get their fill of "Davespeak." McKay also does note in the syllabus the potential for a class trip to a DMB concert in Cleveland.

Now, it'd seem that covering all this "general information" would be more like a daily occurrence in the DMB community than actual classroom work. Believe me, that's not a jab at McKay's class. Ask yourself how bad it would be to listen to a studio album of your choice and have to review it. Or worse, analyze the lyrics of the song of your choice. And it's come to this: Morgan Delancy's "Step Into the Light" and Nevin Martell's "Music For the People" are both recommended (but not required) reading. (This is, however, something that McKay aims to make mandatory for the next teaching; this way the history can be covered privately by students' own reading. He'd rather focus on the musical and lyrical aspects during class to make overall better use of the weekly two hours.)

The class itself also draws heavily from the scrapbook McKay kept in his younger years. Class reading runs from Charlottesville Weekly articles circa 1993 to Modern Drummer clippings. Both Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly feature heavily as well in what's covered.

Apparently the class is educating and entertaining at the same time. Says Rebecca Davidson, from Youngstown, Ohio, "It surprised me to learn about the types of music that each band member was influenced by." Jessica Hauser, another classmate, notes that "...everyone seems to enjoy the music and when we're all listening to a song there's no reservations against singing along." Like I said earlier, rough work. College never seemed this appealing.

So now we're in December, and college has basically wrapped-up. So how did the class end? "It went well!", McKay exclaims. "I covered most of what I had hoped to...the important things...but I found out that two hours a week is just not enough to cover it all." It's apparent that the class gained something from this whole semester, but how about the teacher? "I have learned a lot about teaching, organization, presentation, and all that fun stuff. Maybe the college will pay me to do this one day," he jokes.

McKay also mentions that in the future he'd like to put the syllabus, the quizzes, and any other course material online for fellow nancies.org readers to check out. I have a hunch they'll be on it, Tim.

nancies.org | December 18, 2001