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In First of its Kind Class, Students Learn and Perform “Abbey Road”

There are few images which are more iconic than the one adorning the cover of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album.  But the music lying within the record truly cemented its place in the music history books.  This past weekend, Manhattan College performing arts students made it their mission to pay “Abbey Road” the epic tribute it deserves.

“Abbey Road” was released by The Beatles in 1969.  Though their album “Let It Be” was the final album to be released, most of the songs had been recorded prior to production beginning on “Abbey Road”.  Because of this, many fans consider Abbey Road to be the true “final album” of one of the most influential music groups in history.

Before

Andrew Bauer, director of performing arts, made it his mission to teach the class centering on this album.  He was a lifelong fan of The Beatles, even before he conceived of the idea of having an “Abbey Road” class.  Bauer considers The Beatles as a major influence on him compositionally and musically.

Inspiration for the class came to Bauer when he walked into the performing arts room in Thomas Hall and heard then-freshman student George Schlinck playing a guitar lick he quickly recognized from the album: Ringo Starr’s “Octopus’ Garden”.

“All of a sudden, ideas piled on ideas right away.  It’s like composing something,” Bauer said.  “I was like, you know what, I’m gonna teach a class someday, and it’s going to be called Abbey Road, and it’s going to be an in-depth study of the album and then we’ll actually play the album.”

The class stayed in production limbo for quite a few semesters but finally came to fruition during the spring semester of Schlinck’s senior year.

“I kept asking [Bauer], ‘Andy, when is this class happening?’  And he was like, ‘Eh, we’ll do it before you graduate.’  And it got to the point where I told myself, ‘This isn’t happening.’  And then last semester, he mentioned that it’s finally happening,” Schlinck said.

When the roster was finalized, the students set out to pay tribute to “Abbey Road”.  The first song the group played together was “Come Together”, which was a way for Bauer to gauge the potential success of the class.

“As soon as they started playing it, I knew this class wasn’t going to flop,” Bauer said.  “It sounded good right away.”

“One of the coolest things was sitting in class on the first day,” senior class member Erica Rebussini said.  “Hearing the first few notes played was really cool.  It was just special because we were like, ‘Wow, this is really happening.’”

Dedication was important, as the class would meet once a week for three hours: an hour for lecture, followed by two hours of music rehearsal.  This time only increased as the performance date drew nearer, and rehearsal times were allotted in addition to the time in class.

But commitment was never an issue for the students or Bauer.  The snowstorm that cancelled classes earlier this semester happened to fall on the day of an Abbey Road class, and Bauer decided to have it anyway.  Not a single student missed class that day.

For Bauer, the performance aspect of this new type of music class is particularly important.

“A lot of college classes will study something, but they won’t actually do it.  They’ll look at it from an academic perspective,” Bauer said.  “But to actually apply what you’ve learned about the formal structure and the harmony that you’re studying and then actually play the stuff, it gives you a deeper and more appreciative understanding of the music.”

Senior Olivia Smith noted that she was introduced to The Beatles by her parents at a young age, and has been familiar with their music for much of her life.

“I was raised, kind of, on The Beatles, but not particularly on Abbey Road.  But [Here Comes the Sun] is the one song I recognize the most, because that is what I heard mostly as a child when my parents would put on Abbey Road,” said Smith.

Rebussini, like Smith, was also raised on The Beatles and influenced by her parents.

“My dad always had us listening to all different types of music, and I loved it,” Rebussini said.  “As I got older, I started to put together that they were The Beatles.”

All but two of these dedicated students are members of the senior class and consider this their last major performance as a Manhattan College undergraduate.

“This is my last chance to, in a performative setting, really experience something new at the college.  And it’s bittersweet, but man, what an awesome way to go out!” Schlinck said.

According to Bauer, the Abbey Road Project is part of a larger effort to make the college’s performing arts ensembles more cohesive.

“We’ve got all these great groups: we’ve got Singers, we’ve got Jazz Band, we’ve got Music Ministry.  But they’re all kind of in their own worlds, and I think we need to connect them more,” Bauer said.  “And I think doing something like “Abbey Road” is one way of connecting the various groups a little bit more, like one big powerhouse organization.”

For Schlinck, however, the diversity in the performing arts department is a particular strength.  He owes this, in part, to there not being a music major at the college.

“Everybody who’s in the performing arts department we know is here because they want to be here.  They’re not doing it for a grade, they’re doing it for the love of it,” said Schlinck.

During

Bauer had been teasing the performing arts department about the Abbey Road Project for quite some time.  Advertisements began in late February, when cryptic posters simply saying “Because” were taped up on walls across campus.  “Because”, of course, refers to the eighth track on “Abbey Road” by the same name.

Bauer wasn’t the only one leading the campus on, though. Schlinck also dropped hints regarding the upcoming performance at a February coffee house event in Jasper Hall’s lounge.

As the show drew ever closer, advertisements became more explicit.  Toward the end of April, posters advertising the event and its times were posted throughout campus as well.  The posters in question featured the members of the class walking through a crosswalk in the very same manner the Beatles did on the cover of the album.  The posters also featured a “Snapcode” which allowed students to reserve free tickets via Snapchat.

The idea was clearly a hit, because a few days before opening night, another paper was taped on top of the posters throughout Thomas Hall.  These papers only had two words written in capital red letters: SOLD OUT.

Following the success of their opening night, Jaspers and family members alike piled into the Black Box Theater in Thomas Hall on Saturday night to see what would truly be a stunning performance.

The show was, in the words of Bauer, the “final exam” for the Abbey Road Project class.  If that statement was true, the class definitely scored an “A”, if the standing ovation following the performance was any indicator.

The album was played note for note with no intermission, and the audience absolutely loved every minute.  Though the room was pitch black, the lights from the stage illuminated the faces of the audience, who could be seen mouthing the words to the songs the students were singing.

The true showstoppers of the evening were Tommy Leo’s cover of George Harrison’s “Something”, and Schlinck’s cover of Lennon and McCartney’s “Oh, Darling!”  Schlinck particularly enjoyed this portion of the performance because he was allowed to put down the guitar and put his heart and soul into belting the song out with the same passion as Paul McCartney,

After the last notes of “Her Majesty”, the final song on “Abbey Road”, were played, the audience cheered wildly, getting to their feet and yelling the names of members of the band.

“One more song! One more song!” the audience yelled.

Even though the band members had exited the room, Bauer obliged the audience and called his students back up to the stage for an encore.  They immediately launched into an extremely well-known song of The Beatles: “All You Need is Love”.

Following their encore, the audience cheered as Bauer introduced the members of the band, noticeably skipping over Leo.  Bauer returned to him and made an announcement: it was Leo’s birthday.  Upon making this comment, the band immediately launched into the song “Birthday”.  It seemed that the audience knew this song too, as everyone screamed the lyrics along with the band.

The night was clearly unforgettable for Leo, as well as everyone else in attendance.

After

The Abbey Road Project class was the first of its kind at the college, but Bauer foresees classes similar to it in the future.  Possible future projects could include Carole King’s “Tapestry” and the iconic jazz album “Some Kind of Blue”.

But for Bauer, it was wise to begin with “Abbey Road” because of its continued influence and instant recognizability in the realm of the performing arts.

“This music is so important in our time.  This music has influenced so much else in the music world,” Bauer said.  “It’s going to survive the tests of time.  I think 200 years from now, people will still be listening to those songs.”

“The Beatles will always be relevant,” Rebussini said.  “So much of what we sing, even in Music Ministry, is influenced by The Beatles.”

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