August Watters

Associate Professor
617 747-8686

"I came to Berklee as a student in 1984 and studied jazz composition. I was out for ten years working in the commercial music industry as an arranger, orchestrator, and conductor while studying classical composition. I play mandolin and guitar. I still play jazz and bluegrass guitar, but most of my energies are put into the mandolin these days. I play music that's both composed and improvised, drawing on classical, jazz, and bluegrass traditions."

"The student body has changed a lot. When I was here there were still traveling musicians, working musicians who would take time off for a semester at Berklee. The local jazz-club scene was still alive, to the point where there were still full-time working jazz musicians. The blue-collar touring jazz musicians are gone. What hasn't changed at Berklee is the type of students. They're individualistic and motivated. I can think of one big change, though—the new generation understands it's OK to listen broadly and borrow from diverse traditions. That wasn't nearly so common in my generation, before great musicians like Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, and John Zorn demonstrated the boundaries between musical styles weren't as rigid as we thought."

"A lot of what I do in the beginning is putting labels on familiar sounds. I believe that people know a lot on an intuitive level about music. Anybody who listens carefully and has been involved in playing music knows a lot about music, just on an intuitive level. There's a popular idea in our culture that says that thinking about the mechanics of music somehow interferes with, or gets in the way of, expressing yourself. I think we're coming from exactly the opposite view, which is that thinking things through and organizing your thoughts is essential to accessing what you know, and it gives you new tools for learning. How are you going to use what you already know if you don't know how to find it? And how can you do anything really original until you understand what's been done, or where the boundaries are?"

"Nobody comes to Berklee to study ear training, and yet what we do here is the most practical thing. What we're dealing with are long-term musicianship skills that are not for any particular style, but are important to all musical styles. It's really not about style at all. It's about the musical language that's common to all musical forms. We're developing long-term learning skills that, really, you're not going to digest for five or ten years. So we do our best to make it challenging and rewarding to every musician. What we're doing is building a style-neutral method for musical learning, one that will take many years to master."

Career Highlights
  • B.M., Berklee College of Music
  • Master’s composition work completed privately with Harold Shapero
  • Mandolinist, guitarist, banjoist, vocalist, composer, and arranger
  • Performances with Carlo Aonzo, Butch Baldassari, Steve Kaufman, Bill Keith, Marilynn Mair, Don Stiernberg, and Radim Zenkl
  • Founder, New England Mandolin Ensemble and Cape Cod Mandolin Camp
  • Extensive studio credits as arranger and conductor for television and film, including the Monitor Channel, PBS, AT&T, and various independent film artists
  • Arrangements and compositions for Boston Jazz Orchestra, Boston Secession, Christian Science Publishing Society, Lionel Hampton, MCA Records, and JugendZupfOrchester Nordrhein- Westfalen
  • Presently developing a library of original compositions and arrangements for mandolin ensembles and other improvisational string groups, as well as teaching materials for guitar and mandolin