Berke McKelvey

Associate Professor

"In the ear training classes in particular I talk about the way in which I learn songs. If a bride or groom wants a specific song, I'll put the recording in my car and just start solfèging along with the bass chords or arpeggiating the chords locally that I'm hearing, so by the time that I get to the band rehearsal or the gig I can play the song, even though I haven't actually played the song with my instrument yet. The tool set you learn by learning solfège is one that is applicable every day."

"If you really love music, it's like you would love somebody else in a personal relationship; you want to find out everything there is to know about them. You want to find all their likes and dislikes. So when a student says 'I don't really need to know where Charlie Christian came from, because I'm into Eddie Van Halen, and he uses electric grills to get sounds out of his guitar,' you want to encourage that student to have some sense that they can completely love Eddie Van Halen's music, but if they love it that much they probably want to know who he listens to. And then they want to know who the people Eddie Van Halen listened to listened to."

"I think it was Branford Marsalis, when he came here to talk to the faculty, who said he had a student in New York who wanted some tapes to listen to so he could play like Coltrane. So the next lesson Branford had made up a CD of Lester Young and Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, all the classic tenor soloists from the twenties and thirties through the early forties. And the student says 'What the hell is this stuff? This isn't Coltrane.' And Branford says, 'Well, you know, when Coltrane was 18, Coltrane was not listening to Coltrane at 45. He was listening to these guys.' These guys did not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus like Athena. These guys grew up just like they did, had problems in high school and middle school just like they did, had parents that didn't understand them just like they did, and listened to music from the previous generation."

"It may be a little sacrilegious, but I don't really care if students never use solfège again after they get out of here. But I do care that they have an increased depth of understanding about the music-making process and are sensitive enough to be able to hear details in music that they're listening to. Although, at a party it's nice every now and then to be able to scat Donna Lee in solfège. That's always fun. To really impress the person you're trying to go home with, play a few pop solos in solfège; you'll knock 'em right off their feet."

Career Highlights

  • B.A., Berklee College of Music
  • M.A., University of California, San Diego
  • B.A., Principia College