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October 06, 2015

John Covach to lead new Institute for Performing Arts

As the inaugural director of the University’s Institute for Performing Arts, John Covach says he hopes to enrich campus life and the performing arts by moving toward free access to all campus performances and increasing students’ exposure to professional performances outside the University through partnerships with area arts organizations.

“At a time when there’s a lot of talk about cutting the arts in education, we are working to increase participation in the humanities and performing arts because we believe they can make a difference in people’s lives,” Covach says. “I see my job as to encourage every student on campus to become involved in the arts as a performer, member of stage crew, or spectator.”

The institute is one of four initiatives identified by University President and CEO Joel Seligman as essential to the continued success of Rochester students. In spring 2015, Arts & Sciences Dean Gloria Culver announced the creation of the institute to support, cultivate, and promote engagement in music, theater, and dance at the University and to strengthen existing relationships in the College, the Eastman School, and the Memorial Art Gallery.

“John’s leadership in the Department of Music and Institute for Popular Music combined with his passion for the performing arts makes him an excellent choice for the position,” Culver says. “His commitment to fostering participation in the arts at Rochester is evident to anyone who talks to him.”

Culver says Covach has been integral in helping to shape the vision of the institute as part of a development team that includes Culver; Nigel Maister, the Russell and Ruth Peck Artistic Director of the University’s International Theatre Program; and Missy Pfohl Smith, director of the Program of Dance and Movement.

Covach is a prominent rock historian, founding director of the University’s Institute for Popular Music, professor and former chair of the Department of Music, and professor of music theory at the Eastman School.

His musical specialties include the analysis, theory, and history of popular music, as well the study of 20th-century music. He is the author of What’s That Sound? An Introduction to Rock and Its History, which is widely considered the leading textbook on the topic.

Covach joined the University a decade ago and has authored dozens of articles, edited several books, and received numerous teaching awards. Since 2013, his free online courses on Coursera on the History of Rock, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones have been taken by more than 250,000 students around the world.

In 2012, he founded the Institute for Popular Music at the University to support and encourage the serious study of popular music in higher education. His talks, conference presentations, consulting, and performances take him across North America and Europe.

Visit for more information about the Institute for Performing Arts.

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