What is the Berklee alchemy that has turned out multitudes of Grammy and Emmy award winners? Many people think of the technical prowess of the faculty and students, but that’s only half of the picture. After all, technique without feeling isn’t art. Part of the Berklee magic is present in teachers such as Ensemble Department Assistant Chair Sean Skeete ’03, who teaches students how to harness their technical abilities to actually say something.
Born to a pair of pastors in Trinidad and Tobago, Skeete’s family emigrated to America when he was six. “My father came here to lead a new church, and we came with him,” he says. “I grew up hearing music in church, and I loved the drums in particular.” He soon began playing drums himself and practiced so obsessively that if he took a break to watch cartoons, his mother would come rushing into the room to check on him. “If the drums stopped,” he says, “she figured something must be wrong.”
In high school, Skeete’s musical proficiency prompted his teacher to introduce him to some faculty members involved with Berklee’s then-nascent Berklee City Music program. “They liked what they heard, and they invited me to come to the Five-Week [Summer Performance] program on scholarship,” Skeete recalls. At the conclusion of the program, Skeete was offered another scholarship: a full ride to Berklee. “It’s the only place I wanted to go,” he says, “so this was really a dream come true, and the whole thing happened really fast.” True enough. Eight months after Skeete first heard about Berklee’s summer program, he had a full scholarship to the college.
He enjoyed the musical and academic atmosphere at Berklee, but left before completing his degree. “I was seduced by the trappings of success,” he says of his time gigging throughout the United States and Europe. “It was a good time, but I realized I needed to come back and finish my degree.”
Skeete re-enrolled at Berklee, and was soon invited to join the faculty. “We didn’t talk about it at the time, but I was simultaneously a student and a faculty member,” he says. “At graduation, I sat near some of my students. They looked at me wearing my gown with my daughters on my knees, and said, ‘Wait, you’re graduating too?’ It was pretty surreal.”