Another Academic Year Begins
With events held during the last week of August, the college welcomed Berklee students, faculty, and staff to a new academic year with words, music, and food. The August 29 Entering Student Convocation & Concert offered the 965 incoming students insight into Berklee life and more from President Roger H. Brown, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs/Provost Lawrence Simpson, Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students Lawrence Bethune, and guest speakers.
This year’s student speaker, Tiffany Lynette Anderson, shared her inspirational story of taking a decade to complete her undergraduate studies due to financial and health issues. With only seven classes left to go, Anderson had to drop out to earn tuition money. For a time, she worked with the Harlem Gospel Choir, and in preparation for the group’s tour of Nigeria, Anderson received inoculations that induced life-threatening liver problems. During her hospitalization, Anderson reviewed her life’s goals and accomplishments and clung to hope and faith rather than fear. “Through the help of good doctors and God,” Anderson said, she became well and was determined to finish her studies. Returning to Berklee years after leaving, Anderson said she overcame self-doubt. “It was hard to come back older, seven years after leaving,” she said. “But giving up and stopping were not options.” Last May, Anderson completed her degree requirements.
After naming Berklee alumni who have recently topped the jazz polls and Billboard charts as well as those who have started successful entrepreneurial companies, President Brown encouraged the entering class with a mathematical formula calculated to foster confidence and hard work. “If you were to practice just enough to get 1 percent better each day, over the course of your four years here,” Brown said, “you will be 2,038,070.25 times better than you are now.”
Brown then presented Tim Nilson ’96 with Berklee’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Now a major-label executive at Sony Music Entertainment, Nilson thanked Brown and others before offering his thoughts to the entering class. He recognized his father for having encouraged him to attend Berklee. “Thank your families for supporting your decision to come here,” Nilson said. “It’s not an obvious choice for a parent to make. But Berklee is the place for you to zero in on what you want to do with your music career.”
The second half of the program, a concert featuring 38 student musicians, was conceived and developed by Berklee’s Yo Team production staff in just 10 days. The LyricANA Chamber Orchestra made its debut playing classical selections by composers Giacomo Puccini and Heitor Villa-Lobos. The Berklee City Music All-Star Ensemble offered up foot-tapping r&b, Latin, and swing numbers. The Berklee Mixed World Ensemble played exotic music drawing on sounds from the Middle East and South America. Pianist Alan Benzie, the recipient of a 2010 Billboard scholarship, led a jazz trio in two songs.
President Brown and the administration formally welcomed the faculty and staff later in the week with a Berklee Opening Day brunch that included speeches and great music by a range of performers, including vocalist Bobby McFerrin. The morning’s theme, vocabularies, was inspired by the title of McFerrin’s new album.
In his opening remarks, President Brown recalled seeking out Dr. Tunis Romein, one of his former high-school teachers, to thank him for helping his students expand their vocabularies. “I don’t think he remembered me that well, and I don’t think many students ever looked him up to thank him,” Brown said. “I think [my gratitude] was very moving to him, and he thanked me for taking the time to do this.” Brown predicted that the faculty’s work would have lasting positive effects on students’ lives.
After an upbeat performance by the all-female a cappella quintet Women of the World and a humorous and informative discussion with a panel of returning students, Camille Colatosti, the chair of the Liberal Arts Department, introduced McFerrin. During the coming academic year, the 10-time Grammy winner will serve as a visiting professor in Berklee’s Africana Studies program.
Taking the stage, McFerrin opened with a solo vocal improvisation and shared anecdotes that were simultaneously poignant and humorous. He told the audience that he had been “molecularly changed” after hearing a performance by Miles Davis in 1972. “I understood improvisation for the first time,” he said. He also related a story about his friend, classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma, visiting Botswana to “get some dirt in his bones.” Tribal leaders informed Ma that music is a continuous thread in their daily life rather than being a formal performance. “They have no word in their vocabulary that suggests that music is somehow going to happen later on somewhere else,” McFerrin said. “[To them] music is here and music is now.”
McFerrin also took questions about his beginnings in music and his philosophy on teaching. A high point came when McFerrin invited willing members of the audience to join him onstage. What followed were spirited improvisations that left the crowd cheering loudly.
Berklee Opening Day activities ended with the traditional barbecue at Mother’s Rest Park. That brought students, faculty, staff, and administrators together to end the day and begin the year.