Berklee Celebrates the Inauguration of President Erica Muhl
Berklee celebrated the inauguration of Erica Muhl, DMA, its fourth president and the first woman to lead the institution, on Tuesday, April 4, at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway in Boston. The administration of the oath of office was led by Martin J. Mannion, chair of Berklee’s Board of Trustees, followed by the presidential medallion presentation by Susan Whitehead, chair emerita of the board.
Muhl opened her inaugural address explaining why she loves Berklee, from its uniqueness in the world of arts education to the eagerness of its community to break conventions about what learning should look like in the arts. “I’ve heard so many stories at Berklee about students walking into their lessons and asking to study something that turns a musical genre on its head, and the response is never ‘we don’t do that here’ but instead ‘let’s explore this and see what we can learn together,’” Muhl said.
She described the five strategic pillars that will be critical to shaping Berklee’s future path, including a focus on the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and creating a pipeline of student success that begins with various educational partnerships for grades K–12, and up through their experiences at Berklee and beyond. She laid out the vision for Berklee’s approach to what it means to be an institution of higher learning today and what new structures will need to be developed to ensure that as the world continues to change, Berklee can quickly and effectively adapt to remain not just relevant but at the front of the curve.
Our work ahead will not be easy, but disrupting the status quo never is. I am excited about the future we will build from this interconnected strategy and the institution that will emerge.
In the conclusion of her address, Muhl said, “Our work ahead will not be easy, but disrupting the status quo never is. I am excited about the future we will build from this interconnected strategy and the institution that will emerge. There is a certain chaos to the world’s momentum, and we can do our best to avoid it, and the inherent risk. But this is a community of defiant groundbreakers who are no strangers to opposition, and together we will grab that momentum and harness its power.”
During the ceremony, Muhl presented an honorary doctorate to musician and humanitarian Sona Jobarteh, another trailblazing woman and the keynote speaker for the inauguration. A musician and educator from the Gambia, Jobarteh was born into one of the five principal griot families in West Africa, a hereditary tradition that dates back over 700 years to the Mali Empire. Jobarteh is the first woman within this ancient tradition to master the kora, a 21-string instrument from the Mandeng regions. Originally introduced to the kora at the age of 4 by her elder brother Tunde Jegede, she went on to study under her father, breaking an ancient, male-dominated tradition that had been exclusively handed down from father to son for the past seven centuries. Jobarteh performed on the kora following Muhl’s inaugural address.
“It is a huge privilege for me to be here, and I want to say a special thank you to Erica Muhl for inviting me to be here on her very special, amazing day,” said Jobarteh in her keynote address. She discussed the parallels between the music-filled hallways of Berklee and the Gambia Academy, which she founded in 2015, and how music is an integral part of Africa’s greater cultural fabric. “One must have patience and a determined will to succeed in light of the challenges they will face, of which there are so many. It is therefore so, so deeply meaningful to receive this recognition today for what I am doing. It invaluably adds to my strength...courage and my drive to continue on this path, knowing that there are beautiful moments of support on this very long road.”
The Wildmans, a band made up of current Berklee students from Floyd, Virginia, welcomed guests as they arrived to the ceremony. The Berklee Inauguration Brass Ensemble, conducted by Professor Julius Williams, performed the processional and recessional “Fanfare for the President,” which was composed by student Ben Romanov for the event. Following the opening remarks by Mannion and Dr. Lacretia Johnson Flash, Berklee’s senior vice president for DEI, community, and campus culture and climate, the Inauguration Faculty Jazz Quartet performed a musical interlude. The quartet consisted of Walter Smith III (saxophone), chair of the Woodwind Department, and the Grammy Award–winning Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice team: Kris Davis (piano), associate program director of creative development; Linda May Han Oh (bass), associate professor; and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), founder and artistic director.
Other speakers included Grace Kelly ’12, acclaimed jazz saxophonist and Berklee trustee; Laszlo Gardony ’85, professor of piano; María Martínez Iturriaga, senior vice president of international learning environments and executive director of Berklee Valencia; Harold Rivas, president of the Berklee Student Government Association; and Dr. Jean Morrison, university provost and chief academic officer at Boston University. Each delivered reflections on Muhl’s innovative vision and the significance of her presidency for Berklee.
Dr. Flash returned to deliver the closing words of the inauguration ceremony, a reflection by poet, playwright, and Berklee trustee Dr. Velina Hasu Houston. Her remarks were followed by a jubilant performance by the Berklee Overjoyed Ensemble and the Spirituals of Boston Arts Academy, led by Dennis Montgomery, a professor in the Ensemble Department, and Michael Bradley, co-chair of the Boston Arts Academy’s music department.
Berklee’s inaugural celebration of Muhl began with a performance by the Berklee Inauguration Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall on the evening of Monday, April 3. The collaborative orchestra of student, faculty, and staff performers from the College and Conservatory performed Muhl’s work for large orchestra Burn the Box (2011); her work for string orchestra Elegy: Disinherited Souls (2010), a co-commission from the cities of Berlin and Dresden in remembrance of the victims of the Shoah; and Variations for Piano and Orchestra (2023), a reimagining of her 1997 Variations for Piano, newly composed by Muhl for Kris Davis, virtuoso pianist and Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice faculty member. The concert also featured two works selected by Muhl herself that were written by composers whose seminal contributions to American concert music influenced her career: Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 6 and Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915.
The inaugural festivities concluded Tuesday evening with a sold-out concert at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway. The Great American Songbook: Girl on Fire—The Music of Alicia Keys concert celebrated the rich musical canon of singer-songwriter, pianist, producer, and activist Alicia Keys. The concert brought together an outstanding global collective of singers, rappers, instrumentalists, arrangers, track producers, dancers, and visual artists. Produced by Maureen McMullan ’09, the setlist included “A Woman’s Worth,” “No One,” “You Don’t Know My Name,” “Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down,” “If I Ain’t Got You,” “Girl on Fire,” “Brand New Me,” “Fallin’,” “Superwoman,” “How Come You Don’t Call Me,” and many more of Keys’s influential music.