We Are Family: Alumni Return for Berklee's First Reunion

By 
Mike Keefe-Feldman
June 18, 2014
As Berklee welcomed alumni back to its Boston campus for the college's first-ever alumni reunion, Abe Laboriel Sr. ’72 performed together with his sons and fellow Berklee alumni Mateo Laboriel ’03 and Abe Laboriel Jr. ’93.
More than 400 Berklee alumni attended the reunion on the weekend of June 13, 2014.
Berklee’s chief Alumni Affairs officer, Karen Bell ’90, talks with Brian Simmons ’02, a music education business owner who traveled to the reunion from Atlanta.
Many alumni reunion attendees caught Berklee Night at the Boston Pops, which featured Berklee alumna Melissa Etheridge, who was joined in the performance by several current Berklee students.
Berklee president Roger H. Brown addresses alumni reunion attendees and salutes Berklee faculty pioneers who influenced many generations of musicians who have studied at the college.
A panel on the future of the music industry was very well received. The panel was moderated by Panos Panay ’90, director of the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE), and included alumni Dave Altarescu ’02 of Spotify, Lisa Strout ’70 of the Massachusetts Film Office, and dual alumni/faculty members Terri Lyne Carrington ’83, a recent Grammy-winner, and video game scoring faculty member Michael Sweet ’90.
Lee Berk, the college's second president, and his wife, Susan, toured Berklee’s facilities along with alumni. The tour included a look at state-of-the-art studios and music technology spaces in the recently opened 160 Massachusetts Avenue tower.
Alumna Merrily James ’10 sings at an alumni reunion concert in the Berklee Performance Center. James says she values Berklee for “all the wonderful people that I’ve met that I still play with in bands today, or that let me crash on their couches when I’m driving across the U.S. touring and need a place to stay.”
Berklee alumnus and current Voice Department associate professor Jeff Ramsey (left) and Harmony Department professor George Russell (right) enjoy the reunion. Of his fellow alumni, Ramsey says, “There are so many people I’m friends with to this day that have taught me so much, in addition to my faculty colleagues here."
When the official reunion events were over, alumni gathered together for jam sessions such as this one in the basement studios of Berklee’s new tower at 160 Massachusetts Avenue featuring (from left to right) alumnus Ryan Pinkston, alumnus Jaleel Shaw, alumnus and now assistant professor Neal Itzler, alumna Hailey Niswanger, and associate professor David Gilmore. Many alumni have already expressed interest in when Berklee's next reunion will take place.
Photo by Dave Green
Photo by Dave Green
Photo courtesy Brian Simmons
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Mike Spencer
Photo by Mike Spencer
Photo by Mike Spencer
Photo by Mike Spencer
Photo by Craig Bailey
Photo by Dave Green

Embarking from Germany, Los Angeles, and many points in between, more than 400 Berklee alumni returned to their old musical stomping grounds in Boston for the first-ever alumni reunion in the college’s 69-year history on the weekend of June 13, 2014. They were greeted by a Berklee campus that looks a lot different, particularly given the addition of Berklee’s new state-of-the-art tower at 160 Massachusetts Avenue, but that many said feels just as warm and inviting as it did when they were students first studying their craft and planning their path in music.

Click on the image to launch Berklee alumni reunion slide show.

Tuning Up

Even before the reunion officially got under way, the excitement was palpable in the air around Berklee, particularly at a rehearsal for the alumni reunion concert in the Berklee Performance Center at which Abe Laboriel Sr. '72 jammed with his sons, Abe Laboriel Jr. '93 and Mateo Laboriel '03. The family is, without question, among the most active in the music business.

Abe Laboriel Jr. has now been playing drums with Paul McCartney for longer than Ringo Starr did. Abe Laboriel Sr. is one of the most in-demand bass players for movies, recording sessions, and jingles; most recently, his bass work has been heard 'round the world on the hit song “Let It Go” from the blockbuster Disney movie Frozen. In addition to working on music for films and studio recordings, Mateo Laboriel also develops new artists. With all of this and more on their plates, the Laboriels could easily have passed on the Berklee reunion, but they didn’t.

“Berklee is an important part of our family,” Laboriel Jr. says. “The three of us all graduated from here and this college—and this town—is an important part of all of our musical development. It’s real fertile ground here, so to be able to come back and celebrate the new growth and to see that after all these years, Berklee is still striving to be better and better, it’s just great to be here to be able to celebrate that.”

While Berklee alumni are involved in a diverse array of fields and careers, Mateo Laboriel says that, especially at a special alumni event such as the reunion, they are united by a simple yet powerful common bond: “experience with the love of music.”

Getting the Band Back Together

As alumni reinforced that bond with old—and some new—friends, they attended a variety of events, including a Boston Pops concert at Symphony Hall featuring alumna Melissa Etheridge, who was joined in the performance by several current Berklee students. The former classmates also attended sessions on the future of Berklee and the future of the music industry at large. The latter panel, moderated by Panos Panay '90, founding managing director of the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE), included alumni Dave Altarescu ’02 of Spotify, Lisa Strout ’70 of the Massachusetts Film Office, and Terri Lyne Carrington ’83, a recent Grammy-winner and professor in the Percussion Department, and video game scoring faculty member Michael Sweet ’90.

As one might expect, alumni naturally fell into assorted jam sessions, some with their favorite faculty members, and some, such as a late-night gathering in the new basement studios of the 160 Mass. Ave. building, that went into the wee hours of the morning. Attendees also heard from Berklee president Roger H. Brown, who discussed his vision for the future of Berklee and honored Berklee faculty pioneers who have had an enormous influence on so many music students who have studied at the college.

“That was an impactful and emotional moment, because it really spoke to how we are connected,” says Brian Simmons ’02, a music education business owner who traveled to the reunion from Atlanta. For Simmons, the alumni reunion concert in the BPC was another highlight from the weekend at his alma mater.

Watch performances from the alumni reunion concert via this video playlist:

“It was so good, I didn’t want to leave,” Simmons says. “There is a new life at Berklee with the 160 building and the new studios that are open to the students, but at the same time, it hasn’t lost its creative aspect, so it’s very exciting to see.”

The Family That Plays Together Stays Together

Berklee’s chief Alumni Affairs officer, Karen Bell, says many of the alumni in attendance echoed Simmons’s enthusiasm. Bell notes that some reunion attendees hadn’t visited Berklee for 20 years and didn’t know what to expect.

“It was a very sentimental time,” Bell says. “There were just so many heartfelt stories of making music with people who were just classmates at the time.”

Now, many of those classmates are great friends and some even feel like family. Abe Laboriel Sr., who was clearly overjoyed to be making music with his sons, underscores this point in speaking to his fellow alumni. “We are proud to be part of this family,” he says. “And we pray that you, too, will always feel proud of being part of the Berklee family.”

That feeling seems to be shared by many Berklee alumni, as Bell says she is already fielding questions as to when the next Berklee family reunion will take place.