Optimism for the Year Ahead

The opening of the August 30 entering student convocation was accompanied by a percussion ensemble in the aisles of the Berklee Performance Center.
The opening of the August 30 entering student convocation was accompanied by a percussion ensemble in the aisles of the Berklee Performance Center.
Michael D. Spencer
President Roger H. Brown (left) and James Morales ’06 addressed the entering students.
President Roger H. Brown (left) and James Morales ’06 addressed the entering students.

Before the August 30 convocation to welcome this semester’s entering students got underway at the Berklee Performance Center, the new students and many of their parents ran the gauntlet past three-dozen peer advisers in the lobby—all wearing “I Am Berklee” T-shirts, waving pompons, and cheering the college’s newest members. The energy level only increased after they took their seats in the filled venue and the peer advisers streamed down the aisles led by Berklee mascot Mingus the Jazz Cat and a raucous gaggle of marching percussionists.

Betsy Newman, vice president for student affairs/dean of students, was the first to address the crowd. She impressed upon them the idea that Berklee is a community of “unique, special, even quirky people” and that this new class was about to embark on a journey of self-discovery. She urged them to take note of the college’s Latin motto, Esse quam videri, “To be, not seem to be.”

Jay Kennedy, vice president for academic affairs/vice provost, followed and spoke of the universe of possibilities offered at Berklee. He tied his remarks together by reciting his own comically paraphrased version of the song “Putting It Together” from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George.

Donald Harrison Jr. ’81 was a featured musician at Opening Day.
Donald Harrison Jr. ’81 was a featured musician at Opening Day.

Ryfer Cohen was the event’s student speaker, and offered the newcomers three practical tips: (1) Be open-minded, daring, and say yes (try out new things); (2) be mindful, sensible, and say no (take care of yourself and get more than three hours of sleep); (3) be humble and say thank-you (musicians hire other musicians—especially those they like).

Berklee President Roger H. Brown took the mic and told the students that they were chosen by Berklee because “We’re looking for creativity, devotion, compassion, and a musical ability that makes you unique.” He also offered three points of advice: (1) Go to class; (2) help make this a safe and healthy campus; and (3) help one another achieve success.

The convocation’s keynote speaker was James Morales ’06, music producer and cofounder of the successful New York music production team the Elev3n, which has worked with Jennifer Lopez, Jason Derulo, Dr. Dre, Betty Who, and many more. Morales explained that developing musical relationships with other students and learning from them was a major component of his Berklee experience.

With the words done, the convocation morphed into a Yo Team-produced program of music, featuring two 20-minute sets that let the people in the seats know what Berklee is all about. First up was Arnetta Johnson and S.U.N.N.Y. (Sounds Uplifting Nobility through Notes and Youth), an ensemble playing a set of bop originals and featuring Johnson letting loose with a flurry of notes on her trumpet, and trading leads or playing unison lines with tenor saxophonist Ryan Linvill.

The second group, a funk and r&b outfit called Full Circle directed by drummer Macston Maccow, began its set of originals and covers, featuring four lead singers, each taking a solo song before joining together in a finale. The show’s highlight, suggested by a roar of approval from the audience, was vocalist Christopher Scott, going for and grabbing the high notes on Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones.”

A few days later on September 4, Berklee’s staff and faculty members gathered for the opening day celebration that, among other things, marked the college’s 70th anniversary. The special guest musician was saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. ’81. A Louisiana native, he and the musicians accompanying him opened by filing into the ballroom of the Copley Place Westin Hotel playing festively, in the style of a New Orleans main line as audience members twirled white napkins in the air. Harrison led the band in a 20-minute set that opened with “Cherokee.”

Senior vice president Larry Simpson speaks at Opening Day.
Senior vice president Larry Simpson speaks at Opening Day.

Before Harrison closed out the opening day festivities, Larry Simpson, the senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, and Brown spoke to the crowd. Simpson reflected on events in the past year and said that Berklee is still working to address issues surrounding race. “Even after 70 years and with a mission statement that says, ‘Founded on jazz and the musical traditions of the African-American diaspora,’ we still have challenges,” Simpson said. He called for staff and faculty to build new courses and programs “with thinking that is fresh, forward-looking, and unfettered with bias.”

Brown shared a video about Berklee’s Vision for 2025, and reiterated the last line of the statement: “Berklee will forge connections among art forms, musical cultures, technologies, and institutions, creating a dynamic global network that fosters innovation, collaboration and community.” He then spoke of Berklee’s pending merger with the Boston Conservatory [see related story on page 4].

Brown also mentioned other notable recent developments, specifically, the two new master’s degree programs beginning on the Boston campus this fall, the establishment of five online degrees, and the exploration of programs in Africa, India, and China.

The crowd left energized for the academic year ahead mindful of Berklee’s 70-year educational legacy and energized by the unfolding plans for the future.