In a recent guest blog for Scientific American titled “Taking Pop Music Seriously,” John Covach, director of the recently established Institute for Popular Music at the University of Rochester and co-editor of the University of Michigan Press title Sounding Out Pop: Analytical Essays in Popular Music, explained the importance of studying popular music. In the post, Covach points out that since the early twentieth century, “music has been a constant and often integral part of American culture,” and that to fully understand how music factors into the big picture of the past 100 years, one should consider the contributions of Scott Joplin, Stephen Sondheim, Ray Charles, and Bob Dylan in addition to those of classical composers like Aaron Copland.
Further discussing the value of popular music scholarship, Covach explains:
When studying popular music, scholars address a number of issues that deepen our understanding of the music and the variety of contexts in which it figures. Thinking about the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, for instance, a scholar may explore the musical structure of the songs: the use of harmony, melody, rhythm, tone color, lyrics, and recording technique to create a piece that either reuses elements that are already familiar or pushes the music into new territory. Based on such music-technical analysis, we can begin to determine how the music grows out of previous musical practice (and which musical practices), how it is paralleled by the work of other musicians (The Beatles, for instance), and how it serves as a model for musicians that follow (psychedelia and beyond).
The entire blog post can be found here. More information about Sounding Out Pop can be found here, and a list of titles in the University of Michigan Press’s Tracking Pop series, a wide-ranging exploration of pop music and its cultural situation, can be found here.