Music Business/Management Scholarships

In honor of former Berklee president Lee Eliot Berk, trustee Scott Benson and trustee emeritus Michael Dreese set up scholarships for students in the college's Music Business/Management Department

In the months leading up to his retirement as Berklee president, Lee Eliot Berk was sent off with all manner of well-deserved awards and accolades. But there may be no greater tribute to the man who led the college for 25 years and served an additional 13 as an instructor and administrator than to support the school to which he dedicated so much of his professional life. Trustee Scott Benson and trustee emeritus Michael Dreese have done just that with scholarships that not only acknowledge the former president by name, but also recognize one of his most important contributions to Berklee, a music business curriculum.

"The reason I did this scholarship for music business is because the program is something he started himself," says Benson, whose Lee Eliot Berk Music Business/Management Scholarship will help support the studies of an academically outstanding music business/management major at Berklee. "It was supposed to honor Lee in an area that he was specifically passionate about and felt Berklee should have. And he made it happen."

This new scholarship is only the latest in the series of gifts that Benson has given to the college. He established the Gary Burton Endowed Chair in Jazz Performance, which brought Grammy-winning saxophone giant Joe Lovano to the college in 2001; funded the Scott Benson Scholarship for songwriters; and arranged for 100,000 e-mail addresses to be provided for Berklee alumni. He had established the Burton chair to salute his friend Gary Burton, Berklee's former executive vice president, and with Berk nearing retirement, decided to act again on behalf of another important figure at the college.

"I just wanted to do something to honor Lee and to tell him how much respect I had for him and for what he had done," says Benson, president of XOFF Records. "Years before actually being involved with Berklee, I was constantly intrigued by it and by the musicians it was producing. You seem to constantly run into Berklee alums."

It isn't easy for Benson to pinpoint what he respects most about Berk. But he says he's always been amazed by his intelligence.

"What impressed me most," Benson says, "is that no matter what question I asked him, in every conversation we had, he always had well-thought and articulated responses. In addition to being very broad in his knowledge, he's also very deep in his knowledge. That always impressed the heck out of me."

Trustee emeritus Michael Dreese, who among his other contributions to Berklee, helped launch the Sarah Vaughan Endowed Scholarship Fund for outstanding African American musicians as well as the Nancy Brusger Scholarship for outstanding music education or music therapy majors, says that one of the things he admired most about Berk was his uncanny mix of forward thinking and pragmatism in a time of tremendous expansion.

"If you just take any broad-based measure of what happened over the last 8 to 10 years," says Dreese, whose Newbury Comics Music Business Opportunity Scholarship Honoring Lee Eliot Berk will assist an outstanding music business student at Berklee, "what happened was truly extraordinary. The institution practically doubled in scale, and that's in a period when most liberal arts colleges were failing... His administrative capability is extraordinary, and he had the vision to launch new majors successfully. The combination of what he's done with music therapy, music business, and music technology - those are all keeping Berklee on the edge."

Dreese, CEO of Newbury Comics music retail stores, says that his new scholarship is not only a dedication to former president Berk, but in a sense a thank-you to the young people who have supported his business for so many years.

"Because Lee started that program, I just thought on a personal level that I wanted to do something to honor him," Dreese says. "We've made a lot of money selling prerecorded music to college and high school students, so it just seemed like the appropriate thing to give someone the opportunity to pursue the craft of music."

Dreese says that Berklee's Music business/management Department is a one-of-a-kind place. It's where students with strong music backgrounds can pick up the financial know-how and industry insight that will allow them to enter their careers with a unique set of skills.

"Berklee's program is one that allows musicians to morph into businesspeople, and I think that's terribly healthy," Dreese says. "I think the Berklee music business program takes these very creative musicians and teaches them business skills. These students can relate to other musicians, and it's a great thing to not have a bunch of MBAs from Price Waterhouse try to manage a band. Berklee's kind of in a sweet spot."

And Dreese, like Benson, is well aware of who got it there.

For more information about creating or supporting scholarships, please contact Cindy Albert Link or Marjorie O'Malley.