Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Paul Harris

Dr. Paul Harris has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University’s School of Music since 2008.

“I was originally brought in here to replace Geoffrey [Block, a music history professor] because he was going on sabbatical.” He was planning to only stay at the University for one year teaching a variety of music history classes, “But the academic job market is tough right now and it’s tough for people to find positions. Puget Sound continued to offer me various full-time and part-time positions.” Harris said.

Next year will be Harris’ last year of full-time, non-tenured employment here.

“After that I don’t know what’ll happen to me,” Harris said. “I’m technically temporary, but I’ve been here for seven years.”
Harris has taught freshman music seminars over the years such as The Third Wave: Rock After the Beatles and Image of the Kings: Elvis and Michael Jackson. He also teaches Music Appreciation, World Music and Intro Theory.

“My favorite class to teach is anything in the post-punk era, like Rock After the Beatles,” Harris said. “Music 100 [Music Appreciation] is fun too because I like talking about classical music.” Harris, who is a musicologist, took many classes in music history in grad school, and he enjoys teaching Renaissance music.

“I don’t have an opportunity here to teach Renaissance music, but I would like to,” Harris said. Music theory has roots in Renaissance music, and Harris incorporates historical context into his music theory class even though it is not part of the curriculum.
Harris did not know that he wanted to have a career in music. In fact, he went down a few different paths before he decided on music. He completed an undergraduate degree in Microbiology at the University of Calgary.

“I was good at science, but I didn’t really want to be a doctor. I wanted to be a research scientist,” Harris said. Then, he went to Law school at the University of Calgary and passed the Alberta Bar.

“I went to law school because I was trying to be practical. Med school was practically impossible to get into anyway.”

After realizing that he was “the worst lawyer ever” he decided to take off on tour with his roots rock band, The Burners, for three years. His band did various gigs with prominent Canadian bands such as Blue Rodeo, the Tragically Hip and artists like Joe Ely and even Flock of Seagulls. He described performing with Flock of Seagulls as a “low point in his career (as a musician).” After being on the road, Harris decided it was time for a change.

“I had been giving guitar lessons all my life, so I figured that I’d go back to music school.” He started back as an undergrad at the University of Calgary, then got a Master of Music from there as well. He completed his Ph.D in 2006 from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “I’ve been in school forever,” he joked. After teaching at Chapel Hill and at Boston University for a while, he came to Puget Sound.

“I like teaching here because I get to teach exactly in my research areas,” Harris said. Harris is well-versed in the post-punk movement and loves talking about it in Rock After the Beatles.

“The students are generally pretty good here as well and the small atmosphere is nice.”
Harris, originally from Calgary, Alberta, also likes the Pacific Northwest location. Calgary, which Harris describes as “a cross between Denver and Houston” is more intense than the Pacific Northwest. “I like the laid-back vibe here.”