Christopher Reynolds is not your average music fan. He holds a doctorate in Renaissance music from Princeton, sings choral music and owns a life-size cutout of Elvis Presley.
But most importantly, he is a professor of musicology at UC Davis and has a penchant for teaching the subject to students.
On Friday, Reynolds was lecturing in his History of Rock class when university Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi showed up to surprise him with the school's top teaching award the UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement.
"My head started spinning," Reynolds said later in an interview. "I was surprised, but I knew something was afoot when two cameramen showed up to my class."
Katehi offered the professor a flaming guitar cake for winning the honor. But the real award comes later, in the form of a $45,000 check.
The award is touted as the largest of its kind in the country and is funded by donations to the UC Davis Foundation.
"He has a gift for connecting with his students by encouraging them to find their own approach to the material discussed in class and inspiring them to think critically about music," Katehi said, while presenting the award.
At a school known for its science and engineering programs, giving the honor to a faculty member in the arts and humanities came as a surprise.
Last year's prize was awarded to soil science professor Randy Dahlgren.
"I'm thrilled that someone from the humanities and arts is getting this, and that it's me," Reynolds said. "It's a big deal."
One of his favorite things about music is how "two versions of a song may give you an opposite impression."
"It forces you to think: why does this version make you think it's a happy song or a depressive song?" said Reynolds, noting that the tune can change everything.
The soft-spoken professor is writing a book about Beethoven to be released in the next few years.
When asked why he won the award, Reynolds said, "I try to communicate my love of music."
Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.