Rutgers Class Explores New Jersey’s History of Music
New Jersey's musical roots don't begin with Frank Sinatra or Bruce Springsteen, and the proof is in a newly-created course at Rutgers University.
Rockin' Roots, Global Reach: Telling the Story of Jersey's Popular Music, crafted and led by music and performing arts librarian Jonathan Sauceda, literally digs into the archives of the Garden State's songwriting and instrumental past.
Inside Rutgers' Special Collections and University Archives is more than 175 pieces of sheet music from the 1800s and 1900s. Each piece is either about New Jersey or written by someone from the state.
"Meet Me on the Boardwalk, Dearie" from Mack Keller and Frank Orth paints Atlantic City's boards as the go-to spot for extramarital affairs. "Over on the Jersey Side," by Jack Norworth, takes a scathing jab at the state's corrupt history. Most pieces, though, celebrate New Jersey.
Students are given access to the archive and are tasked with investigating a specific piece.
"This gives a really incredible picture of what people did back then, what they were like, what they think about things like race and gender and entertainment," said Sauceda, who arrived at Rutgers from Texas in 2013.
Then, students compare the older pieces with tunes from more contemporary New Jersey artists, such as the Boss, Bon Jovi and The Misfits. The in-depth assignment is the semester's main focus.
The course is offered only to first-year students, and there's a cap of 20 students per class.
"Students are really excited to have the chance to learn about their roots if they're from New Jersey," Sauceda said.
Another goal of the class is converting the archived sheet music into a digital format, according to preservation standards, in order to fill a database that can be accessed by people from around the globe.