Welcoming the Class of 2021

On August 28, in the waning days of summer, President Roger H. Brown was among the many who welcomed members of the class of 2021 during the Entering Student Convocation ceremonies at the Berklee Performance Center. Introducing the theme of the day, “Tell Your Own Story,” Brown counseled as he shared his personal history against a backdrop of slides. He reminded the students and parents that everyone ultimately finds his or her own career path and that Berklee has much to offer for career preparation.

Berklee graduate Will Wells ’11 continued the theme in a pre-taped video greeting, in which he discussed his academic experience at the college and his current work. Wells is an in-demand recording engineer, producer, and songwriter, as well as a touring musician with Imagine Dragons and Logic.

Three musical numbers were interspersed throughout the program. Singer and guitarist Jonathan O’Neal and harmonica player-vocalist Sarah Messias took turns singing lead on two blues tunes. Messias interjected soulful harmonica licks between verses as O’Neal accompanied her playing his acoustic guitar with a bottleneck slide. Also featured was the Venezuelan Project, a sextet of student musicians from the north-most country in South America. They enlivened the crowd with their original music and unusual instrumentation that included cuatro and harp, alongside bass, piano, percussion, and vocals. The third number featured Boston Conservatory dancer Sadiya Ramos dancing to the solo violin accompaniment of Peyton Cook. Ramos was this year’s recipient of the Beyoncé Formation Scholars Award (see related story on page 12).

Betsy Newman, Berklee’s senior vice president for student enrollment and engagement, drew on titles and lyrics of U2 songs as entry points for her advice to the new students. Cathy Young, executive director of Boston Conservatory at Berklee, shared her perspective as the mother of a college student. She encouraged the students to put themselves out there and engage in Berklee’s vibrant community.

A few days later, for college’s 12th annual opening day, faculty, staff, and administrators gathered in a large ballroom at the Westin Copley Place hotel. Addressing the large gathering, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost Larry Simpson stated, “Berklee is and was the dream of the new students. Now they are here and they have been sniffing out their artistic, intellectual, and physical boundaries. Let’s commit to meet their energy and uncertainties with our knowledge, wisdom, spirit, compassion, and commitment to their success.”

Cathy Young spoke of highlights since the merger of the Boston Conservatory and Berklee. “But,” Young said, “more exciting than where we have been are the opportunities for where we can go.  We now have an opportunity to reimagine and redefine conservatory education for the 21st century. We have a chance to reframe Western classicism as essential but not immutable. A living language in dialogue with other languages and forms. Recognized as one among many classical forms throughout the world.”

Roger Brown spoke of new initiatives. He touched on an increased focus on helping students and alumni find job opportunities and plans to take the current diversity and inclusion framework to the next level.

Panos Panay, who is Berklee’s new vice president for innovation and strategy, presented a slide show illustrating how the music industry has changed over the 26 years since he was a Berklee student. “Today, a global hit can have as many as 700,000 ways of making money and 50 intermediaries,” Panay said. “And there is no agreement among these people about how this money ought to flow and how to identify rights owners. This is why we launched the Open Music Initiative [OMI] a year ago in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab.” Panay and OMI are working to create a protocol for uniform identification of rights owners throughout the industry. Thus far, 200 companies—among them the major record labels and streaming companies—have joined the initiative.

Vocalist Kaitlyn Lusk was the Opening Day keynote speaker. She is best known for her role as soprano soloist in Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings Symphony, which she has sung with 50 of the world’s top orchestras. Backed by a 10-piece ensemble of Berklee and Boston Conservatory musicians, Lusk sang three songs: an evocative rendition of the hymn tune “Amazing Grace,” followed by “Into the West” (from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), and an original song, “Into the Universe.”

Lusk discussed the need for artists to be individuals and properly showcase their artistry. “When the microphone is handed to me, for better or worse, it is in my hands,” Lusk said. She stated that her approach to each new opportunity is “to breathe present air into everything I do.”

In closing, she addressed the faculty members, saying, “You never know what a student might manifest from your words in their musicianship.” Together, the student and teacher are a team she said. “You are helping them to become professionals in their own way,” Lusk stated. “Through their own path, they will see that they can create their own life.” She closed her address by saying, “Put the music first, and the rest will fall into place.”