Professor Kaye Kelly Named 2023 Commonwealth Heroine

The award is given to women who have made exemplary contributions to their communities through public or community service.

June 30, 2023

Ear training is the process of connecting music theory with the sounds we hear. For over two decades, Kaye Kelly has been teaching the subject at Berklee’s campuses in Boston and Valencia, Spain. Kelly has recorded three studio albums and when she’s not teaching, she performs with her Berklee band, Shegrooves.

While Kelly’s work as a musician has led to many awards, it is her work in the community that is now being recognized. In 2021, Kelly created the Franklin Cultural Festival, an annual event that showcases local talent and attracts thousands of visitors to Franklin, Massachusetts. In recognition of this work and other contributions to her community, she was named a 2023 Commonwealth Heroine. The Commonwealth Heroines are people who do not always make the news; instead, they make a difference in their communities. She received the honor on June 23 at the Massachusetts State House.

Kaye Kelly

Kaye Kelly at the Massachusetts State House

The commonwealth recognized you for your work in the community. Tell us what community unity means to you.

I used this phrase to market all of my community outreach during the early stages of the pandemic. I hosted online art contests for children in my community starting with that first week of the shutdown. At that point, I was the chair of my town’s cultural council and was able to facilitate multiple arts and cultural programs that I knew would have a wide social impact. As communities across our nation also dealt with the loss of George Floyd, community unity became even more important. My own community was so fractured. I had been working on a festival idea for some time, and I knew that 2021, even as we continued to endure the pandemic, was the right time to do this. I put the community unity slogan on festival t-shirts as well as all branding on all programming through the cultural council in hopes that it would bring people together. Historically, we are living through such difficult times. Communities in most places don’t work the way they used to. So many people don’t even know their neighbors, let alone help one another in times of need.

You created the Franklin Cultural Festival in your community. What is the festival about, and why did you decide to do it?

The first festival I held was right smack dab in the middle of the pandemic, and I hoped the timing of it would be apropos. It was. Close to 8,000 people showed up for the first one. It included a main stage with seven acts of globally diverse music and dance, 50 artisan vendors, eight food trucks, and a beer garden. I took a risk and made the festival free to the community, hoping I would get the attendance I needed. The second year I expanded the plans and had over 10,000 people attend, and continued along the same theme of highlighting and elevating diversity. I worked hard to make sure that the artisan vendors walked away with substantial cash after being out of work for a year. I made sure the musicians and dancers were paid well for the same reasons. Artists were hurting and needed not only financial help, but also to be in front of customers and audiences again. Ultimately, I wanted to take care of artists as well as build new bridges within my community.

You have been teaching ear training at Berklee for 23 years. How does ear training help students develop their musicianship?  

I’ve been lucky enough to teach and mentor ear training faculty all over the world through our global partner schools during this time. Having our students walk out of Berklee with a high level of musicianship is so important in many ways. Having excellent musicianship skills allows our students to find work more easily and function at the top of their game outside of Berklee. Their abilities directly reflect Berklee’s name across the world. Our students continually reach new heights in the music industry and no one ever regrets having gone through the coursework. It is hard and demanding work, but it pays off tenfold. 

You are the founder of the program Music-on-the-Go. What is the goal of that program?

Music-on-the-Go was originally started as an arts enrichment program for elementary schools. I am a musician because of the arts enrichment that was offered to my own elementary school class. I used Berklee faculty to play and work through an educational program I had written. Ultimately, the red tape of trying to book this idea through schools weighed me down and I took a pause. In the fall of 2023, Music-on-the-Go will start up again in a newly envisioned format. I have partnered with the MetroWest Boston Visitors Bureau. My program offering has expanded by 50 percent and it will be included in an official tour offering with Wolf Tours. Performances and educational outreach will be targeted to middle and high school students from anywhere in the country.

What is the one thing you want your students to master by the end of your class?

The one thing I want my students to take away from my classes is grace, with themselves and for others. We are artists and musicians, not robots. Learning comes with mistakes—and lots of them. When students are given that grace within the classroom, amazing things begin to happen. They begin to trust themselves and I can literally watch their confidence grow from semester to semester. When grace is modeled for them in my classroom, my hope is that they will do the same for their fellow peers and musicians. Patience, encouragement, and support bring about incredible musical ideas; intimidation, harshness, and ego do not. 

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