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New UCF Music Professor to Rock the Classroom – and Stage

What does a long-haired, self-described metalhead who plays in three rock bands have in common with a classically and jazz-trained guitarist with a Ph.D.?

The music courses he will teach this fall at UCF.

Professor Tommy Harrison – who started playing guitar in his early teens, wrote his doctoral thesis on Van Halen, and signed with Atlantic Records last year – hopes to teach his students “to be champions of good music, not music that can simply make money.”

Harrison, 47, lived in Hawaii until after his first semester at the state university, but then moved to the mainland where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music at the University of Denver, a teaching credential at California State University at Northridge, a master’s degree with an emphasis in arranging and composition at California State University at Los Angeles, and eventually a Ph.D. in musicology at the University of Salford near Manchester, England.

“My work on Van Halen focused on the group from 1978-1986, their stylistic development in songwriting approaches, and exploration of Edward Van Halen’s impact on the guitar industry through performance techniques and equipment design,” he said.

Harrison was a visiting assistant professor at UCF during the 2005-06 academic year teaching music technology before accepting an appointment at Jacksonville University, where he taught classes about the music business, arranging and technology until this past spring. For three of those years, he was also the chair of their music department.

He wanted to return to UCF and the College of Arts & Humanities because it “is a vibrant university with an upward trajectory towards exciting new concepts. I wanted to be a part of that atmosphere. The student body and culture is energizing…I longed to be part of a large learning environment again, with more, varied opportunities in collaboration.”

He’s currently in three bands: Raven Cain, which he described as “Southern Rock in the sense that it has a good country influence married with a hard rock mentality”; Glutton, a metal group in the vein of Black Sabbath (his favorite group); and the Tommy Harrison Group, instrumental hard rock with jazz, funk and blues influences. A lot of his time the past several years, he said, also has been focused on his recording career.

“I grew up on 80s hard rock and metal. I love things from that era that range from Slayer to Skid Row. My main research interest is American hard rock of the 1980s,” he said. “I am trained on classical and jazz guitar, and I have some country experience, enough to somewhat fake it. I played Hawaiian slack key briefly in college and I appreciate all types of rock and blues. I am a fan of 20th century concert hall music and I compose for the concert hall as well…I believe that musicians should have a good knowledge of varied styles of music.”

He refers to himself as a “daily” metalhead, and listens to what he describes as classic metal by Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the 90s metal ranging from Pantera to Korn, and lately the French group Gojira and the progressive metal of Protest the Hero.

As part of UCF’s new collaborative Entertainment Management degree program, Harrison will teach Introduction to Music Technology at the College of Arts & Humanities on the main campus and Music Business and Industry at the university’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. Courses will include subjects such as recording, promotions, concert and artist management, music publishing, music for film and television, and copyright.

“I want students to be leaders that can help get the music business right on track,” he said. “I want my music students to be able to create good music, and play music from beginning to end with passion. For music students who will eventually use music and recording technology to make recordings, I want their records to be sonically interesting that capture a magical performance, rather than a recording that has had all of the life edited out it.

“My biggest gripe with a lot of music now – in most genres considered popular – is how the computer has been abused to edit out any type of passion. Pop, country, rock, hip-hop, you name it, there are examples all across the board.”

Teaching music is about being able to model and demonstrate the knowledge an instructor has learned and gained through experience, he said. He also always tries to stay on top of new developments and explains to students how he sees the new music ideas in the context of the old.

“All good musicians practice their instruments with such reverence that it is as essential as eating or sleeping,” he said. “Music is not a casual practice for the professional.”