It Must Be Fall

By 
Mark Small

During the Labor Day weekend, U-Haul trucks and cars packed with musical gear, suitcases, desk lamps, and more to be carried into dorm rooms, signaled fall’s arrival in Boston. Thus the 2013–2014 academic year began as nearly 1,100 entering students joined the ranks at Berklee.

On September 1, new students and their parents filled the Berklee Performance Center for the 2013 installment of the Annual Convocation ceremony. Following welcomes from Senior Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students Lawrence Bethune, Provost Lawrence Simpson, and student speaker Shilpa Ananth Naryayanan, President Roger H. Brown described the diverse backgrounds of members of the entering class. One new student is a competitive water skier, another is seeking a patent for a new musical instrument, others performed at the London Olympics and the U.S. Open. Brown then segued into the introduction of alumni speaker Meghan Stabile ’06, a concert producer and founder of  Revive Music Group.

Stabile shared her observations and impressions a decade after her own arrival at Berklee. “I remember meeting students who would come to be lifelong friends and business partners,” she said. “You are sitting in a room with the next generation of great musicians, future legends, future CEOs and moguls.” Speaking of her final semester, she recalled taking a concert promotions class with Professor Jeff Dorenfeld—a watershed opportunity for her. Stabile has since established her company as an international brand that books major jazz and hip-hop artists at music festivals around the world. She’s also become a renowned producer with her own imprint deal with Blue Note Records. Stabile closed by saying, “You are all here for a very important reason: to build your dream and the dreams of others.”

After the speeches, the audience heard a concert by top returning students. Pianist Giorgi Mikadze quieted the hall with a moving piano intro to his tune “Satchidao.” His seven-piece jazz group followed with tunes by three by other composers. Next were tributes to the music of Motown and songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson. Tunes by Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and a medley of six Ashford & Simpson songs sent the students to their new homes energized.

Opening day festivities welcoming faculty and staff members back to campus were held on Friday, September 6. Things kicked off with music of the virtuosic student bluegrass quintet Most Lonesome. The group’s renditions of bluegrass classics “Sled Riding” and “Footprints in the Snow” elicited enthusiastic hoots and applause. A jazz trio comprising Jetro da Silva, Ron Savage, and Ron Mahdi, also performed for the crowd.

Provost Lawrence Simpson welcomed returning faculty members and introduced 28 new ones—including two new department chairs and two assistant chairs. “On Monday, more than 4,000 students will make their way to your classrooms, labs, and offices because they believe in what you do,” Simpson said. He charged the faculty to work with “clear hearts” in helping the students in their quest to discover their artistic voices.

Among many topics, President Brown spoke about the engineering challenges encountered in creating a strong, watertight foundation for the new building at 160 Massachusetts Avenue. “Now that the building is up, I don’t spend a minute thinking about the incredible engineering that allowed it to happen,” he said. Brown then drew a parallel to the work faculty members do with young students. “Berklee is the educational foundation for our students’ lives and careers. Teach them, support them, set expectations for them, but give them the benefit of the doubt. Be the solid foundation on which they construct their dreams.”

Daniel LevitinThe keynote speaker was Daniel Levitin ’79, an award-winning record producer, neuroscientist, and author of best-selling books about music and the brain. In an engaging presentation, Levitin explained his findings on the development of musical expertise. “It requires 10,000 hours of practice,” he said. Even the prodigy Mozart (who began composing at age four) likely surpassed 10,000 hours before he penned his most enduring works. Levitin also detailed his groundbreaking work documenting the effects of music on the nucleus accumbens, or “pleasure center,” of the brain. Levitin demonstrated the brain’s remarkable recognition abilities by playing one-second musical excerpts that the audience identified immediately. In concluding, he said, “One of the greatest gifts we give to kids who come to us to study music is an opportunity to engage with the musical masters—to play works created by some of the greatest minds in human history. You are doing important work here, preparing kids for a lifetime of learning and joy, just as you prepared me.”

Later, an afternoon barbecue alongside the banks of the river that winds through the Fenway brought a mingling of students and the entire Berklee community. A bright, early-September sun glowed above the gathering as if to reinforce the optimism for the year ahead.