Wootton teacher channels his passion for music into the classroom
Students will be able to see him live his passion at weekend celebration
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Between studying the Civil War and the Pythagorean theorem, some students at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville are learning about Jimi Hendrix and The Velvet Underground.
A classroom elective named "Music Perspectives," or "Rock 101," as some call it, is giving Wootton students a break from rigorous academics and giving one teacher the opportunity to channel his musical passion into the classroom.
One part music history and one part music theory, the class gives students who may not have singing or instrumental prowess the opportunity to study music in a school setting, said instructor Nick Hitchens.
There are no requirements to take the course except a general interest in music and it is open to all students regardless of grade.
"If you like rock music, this class is for you," Hitchens said.
Wootton is one of six public high schools in Montgomery County to offer the course, with the others being Clarksburg, James Hubert Blake, Richard Montgomery, Sherwood and Wheaton, according to the school system's website.
But what sets Wootton's class apart from the other schools might be the teacher at the helm Hitchens, an English teacher and Wootton alumnus.
When he isn't teaching Shakespeare or Talking Heads, he can be found around the metropolitan area singing with The Superland Stage Band, a funk group he's performed with since his days as a dreadlocked undergrad at the University of Maryland, College Park.
"It gives me some legitimacy. Some ethos," Hitchens said after a recent "Music Perspectives" class, looking more clean-cut these days with short hair and a blazer.
Adding to his ethos is his band's gig this weekend on the plaza stage at Hometown Holidays in Rockville before the headlining act, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic.
As a musician, Hitchens has performed with members of two Washington, D.C., rock bands, Fugazi and Bad Brains. The Superland Stage Band has performed at Hometown Holidays before, but this year's Memorial Day weekend event holds significance for Hitchens.
To perform at the same venue as George Clinton, one of the forefathers of the funk movement, is exciting and surreal, he said.
For his May 2 lecture, Hitchens' covered British rock band King Crimson and its hit songs, "In the Court of the Crimson King" and "21st Century Schitzoid Man," as part of the class's progressive rock unit.
Hitchens covered the 40-plus-year history of King Crimson in the span of a few minutes. Before Elton John auditioned to be the band's lead singer in the late 1960s and its first reunification in 1981, King Crimson's debut album, "In the Court of the Crimson King," made progressive rock a full-fledged music genre.
There is almost no genre the class won't cover. From the blues to early British rock to grunge, and everything in-between, students learn the music beloved by generations before them.
The course's popularity has slowly increased over the four years it has been offered at Wootton, and it will likely be taught over two classroom periods next year instead of one, Hitchens said.
Between working on projects like making music videos, writing concert press releases and recreating album covers, "Music Perspective" students and Wootton juniors Jessica Haley, Daniel Delgado and Will Severynse said they would recommend the class to anyone.
"I heard about it through friends and I just took it because I wanted to," Delgado said. "It's awesome."
As an elective and not a required course, students are immediately engaged by the learning material, Hitchens said.
"Everyone who is in there, wants to be there, and I feel lucky it's even a class, let alone one I can teach," he said.