Rachel Greenberg of Volta Insider recently sat down with Jason Hanley, Director of Education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, to discuss his work, the museum, and music’s role in the 2016 election.
Speaking about some of the ways in which American politics intersects with rock music Hanley said, “Rock and roll musicians have a voice, they have a microphone that lets them speak to potentially millions of people, the power of that is that they can give voice to different opinions.”
When asked about the possibility of rock music having an influence on this year’s election, Hanley pointed to the recent story of Neil Young protesting the use of his song at a Donald Trump event. According to Hanley, “The closer you get to the election a lot of musicians are going to start coming out and talking about what they’re interested in. You’re going to get a lot of musicians, particularly in their live performances talking about what’s happening.” Hanley also pointed to the Rock the Vote campaign of the 2004 election cycle, Bob Dylan’s music from the early 60’s, and the numerous works created by rock and roll artists in response to the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, as examples of the music world colliding with American politics.
Hanley and Greenberg also discussed the museum’s youth outreach and educational programs. Hanley says, “We have live programming that we do in the theater where we teach about the history of music.” Among the other educational programs the museum provides are demonstrations, which are often taught by Hanley himself, screenings of classic performances, and a free online classroom. “We get to teach the history and the significance of rock and roll, it’s an American art form.”
Greenberg asked Hanley about the compatibility of the audio medium in the context of a museum which is seen traditionally as suiting visual arts. Hanley responded by suggesting that the museum utilizes visual components such as film in order to “see performance in context”. The museum also features key artifacts from music history such as Ringo Starr’s drum set and Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. According to Hanley, “The thing people really connect with are handwritten lyrics, for a lot of visitors that’s a glimpse into the creative process.”
The rock historian also discussed the future of music innovation and the recent advances in music technology and accessibility, “Instead of someone picking up a guitar they’re picking up an iphone”. When Greenberg pressed him on the ever-expanding tastes of music listeners, especially in the world of rap music Hanley said, “hip hop is part of what we honor here at the museum” though he makes a point that the museum has a waiting period of 25 years after an album is released before they consider any particular artist’s contributions to the greater community. On making music in the 21st century Hanley says, “it’s an amazing time and a daunting time” to have access to so much music and for unknown artists to make a name for themselves on platforms like SoundCloud and YouTube.