Professor uncovers popularity of History of Rock ‘n’ Roll course

Students believe A.J. Miller’s passion for music makes class an experience, not a stressor

Professor+A.J.+Millers+passion+for+music+began+in+sixth+grade+band.+

JARED GRACE

Professor A.J. Miller’s passion for music began in sixth grade band.

SHANA HUANG, Evergreen reporter

WSU’s History of Rock ‘n’ Roll is a popular course, with close to 450 students between two sections enrolling each semester. Also known as Rock Music: History and Social Analysis, the class is taught on campus by A.J. Miller, who teaches various music courses and is assistant director for the Cougar Marching Band.

“I really love this music [rock]. Now I have the opportunity to use the skills that I learned in my degrees to actually create something that I hope is valuable to the students and shows them that if you have a passion for something, as a fan, you can learn a lot about it and also still maintain that passion,” Miller said.

He said he first got into music when he joined his school’s band in the sixth grade and played the euphonium. His interest in rock ‘n’ roll grew through his parents and brother’s passion for the genre. Primus, a band he learned of through his brother, became his favorite musical group and spearheaded his interest in rock music.

Since then, he pursued his passion for music, going to Indiana State University to obtain a degree in music education.

“I played classical music, I played jazz music, modern music, salsa, whatever,” he said. “After that, I went to the University of Arkansas, for my master’s degree in euphonium.”

Miller said the first time he taught the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll course in person was during the fall 2021 semester, and that before that, he taught the course online. He took over the role of professor for the in-person class after the initial retirement of Dave Snider, who was the previous instructor for the course.

“Rock ‘n’ roll is like my favorite genre of music to listen to, in general, I think I’m pretty eclectic in terms of my musical tastes, so I redesigned the course from the top-down, from my predecessor, so that we focus a little bit more on social commentary and move into like the late 90s, 2000s, and look at hip-hop and kind of where music is going now,” Miller said.

Sarah Greene, sophomore nursing major, is a current student in Miller’s class.

“I just think A.J. Miller is an amazing professor. … I know he’s definitely passionate about what he teaches, and that just makes the class more interesting,” she said.

Greene said she enjoys students’ lyrical analyses in the course, where they look at the lyrics of specific songs and learn about the artists themselves to understand their messages.

“We talked about Elvis quite a bit, and kind of like his journey and how he really did try to bring out the African American artists’ community and give them more exposure,” she said.

Greene said she believes the course’s popularity is driven by the need for an arts UCORE, students’ ability to choose their level of engagement with the class and its unique exploration of music.

“This class, MUS262, to my understanding, is the, certainly in the school of music, maybe in the college of arts and sciences, is the most popular class,” Miller said.

Hunter Thacker, sophomore psychology and human development double major, took the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll his first semester at WSU to fulfill an arts credit as well. He said he knew Miller before enrolling in the course through the marching band.

“He [Miller] wants to make it more of like an experience and not like trying to make you have stress over and over again, like with some classes, like let’s say like ochem [organic chemistry] for example, you’re pretty stressed out about that class. … he just wants you to learn about the history of rock, what he thinks, his opinions. … I think it’s just a good opportunity for people to learn more, especially because he’s so passionate about it,” Thacker said.