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Larry Monroe: A Geometrically Good Deal

 
  VP for Academic Affairs/Berklee Valencia Larry Monroe
  Phil Farnsworth

Anyone who passes by Larry Monroe's Berklee office before 9:00 A.M. will hear him practicing the saxophone. During his four decades at Berklee, Monroe, the vice president for academic affairs at Berklee Valencia (Berklee's future sister college in Spain) has worn numerous hats. But first and foremost, he's an alto saxophonist. "I come in at 7:30 every day, except Sunday, and I practice," he says. "I don't do it because I think that Herbie Hancock is going to call, but because it's one thing in life that has been a constant for me. Virtually nothing I believed about life, truth, art, beauty, love, war, politics, or relationships has remained the same. But the alto saxophone is the same every day. To me, it represents the only geometrically good deal you can make in life. If you work hard and practice hard, you get better."

As a grade-school student in rural Vermont, Monroe, took up the clarinet and, later, the alto saxophone. From the start, he dreamed of becoming a jazz musician. "I'm the one jazz musician who raves about the support he got from his parents," Monroe says. "My father was not a musician, but he loved jazz and was perfectly happy about me becoming a jazz musician. He had a tremendous record collection of the jazz greats from the swing era. It provided me with an awareness of the music and was vital to my musical growth. I was also fortunate to find a good woodwind teacher with an affinity for jazz in our town."

Still, there was a divide between Monroe and his jazz aspirations. "I had a very difficult period after graduating from high school," he says. "I'd known about Berklee since I was a kid, but there was no money for me to go to college. I didn't feel I could just sit around, so I took a job in a small-town woodworking factory." Feeling he was going nowhere, Monroe arranged to audition for a military band. His plan was to serve four years, earn his GI benefits, and attend Berklee. He was devastated when weak sight-reading skills sank his audition. He practiced hard and, three months later, auditioned again. With advice from the recruiter and mentoring from a clarinet-playing sergeant, Monroe's reading improved, and he was in.

In 1962, after four years in the U.S. Air Force, Monroe enrolled at Berklee. During his senior year, he was offered a job teaching a full class load. After earning his degree, Monroe served as a full-time Berklee faculty member throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a period of growth at the college that enabled Monroe to make significant contributions. To this day, his work at the college still gives him numerous opportunities to play saxophone with various jazz greats.

Early on, Berklee President and founder Lawrence Berk and other administrators noted Monroe's abilities and strong work ethic. They promoted him to head the Performance and Ear Training departments and to produce Berklee concerts - simultaneously. In 1985, together with former executive vice president Gary Burton, Monroe established the Berklee On the Road program and presented clinics and performances with Berklee faculty members in Japan, Spain, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Greece, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere.

"The On the Road program was Berklee's first international outreach," Monroe says. "We gave scholarships everywhere we went, and the program continues to this day." In 1992, Monroe became the first dean of Berklee's Performance Division. He soon recognized that he needed to strike a balance between his on-campus duties and his travels. Berklee's former president Lee Eliot Berk and Monroe concluded that Monroe could best serve as vice president for the new office of international programs and develop Berklee's international network of contemporary music schools. Monroe established partnerships with schools in Paris, Athens, Barcelona, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Dublin, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Mexico City, and other cities. Today, 14 schools participate in credit-transfer programs that enable students to complete their education at Berklee.

Since being appointed as the vice president for academic affairs of Berklee Valencia, Monroe has nurtured a partnership between Berklee; the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (the leading Spanish creative property rights organization); and the government of Valencia, Spain, to create the European branch school. "In 2012 we will finally have an offshore campus in a beautiful, new 27-story building in Valencia," Monroe says. "We have a very good partnership. In some ways, it's what many schools want; private industry and government aligning to support an educational institution."

Monroe oversees the development of facilities and a Berklee-designed curriculum for undergraduate and graduate degrees in writing for integrated media, global music business, electronic production and design, symphonic band studies, and Mediterranean music. Berklee Valencia will accommodate 1,000 students and reserve 200 seats for Berklee Boston students who would like to study abroad.

Berklee Valencia will help fulfill Berklee's strategy to be educationally influential in the global music community. For students from Europe, Africa, South America, and the Middle East, Berklee Valencia will provide educational opportunities not easily accessible in these regions. Given Monroe's beginnings in rural Vermont and the opportunity he received, this aspect of the venture resonates deeply with him. A military recruiter extended a helping hand to him when his musical dreams were evaporating. That break became the gateway for Monroe's career as a jazz musician and educator. "The guy saved my life," Monroe says. "He gave me a break. Often in music, someone's gotta give you a break. I always think of that."