Atonal Solfege, Eclectic Electrics, and Shout-Outs to Professors

Imagine Dragons and Berklee professor Mark White
From the left: Daniel Platzman, Berklee professor Mark White, Wayne Sermon, and Ben McKee. Band members reunited with their former teacher on a night Imagine Dragons had off in Boston in March.

Some of the more esoteric studies that Wayne Sermon, Ben McKee, and Daniel Platzman undertook at Berklee set them apart from many other rockers. Extensive music-writing skills enabled Sermon and Platzman to pen the string chart heard during their February Saturday Night Live appearance and a symphonic arrangement for a performance the band did with an orchestra in Nashville. The crisp intonation of their background vocals at live shows may very well have been honed in professor Ed Bedner’s atonal solfege classes.

“I had all three of those guys in my atonal solfege classes, which are upper-semester electives,” Bedner recalls. “I remember Dan Platzman’s class being unusually good and that Dan got the notes and phrasing and was able to make musical sense of the melodies. We worked on songs by Anton Webern that are constructed intervalically without reference to the major-minor system—difficult music. This stuff gives a person more precise intonation, and when they go to tonal music, everything is better.”

McKee says Bedner’s course changed his life; Platzman says it changed his ears. “I still hear some of the Modus Novus melodies in my nightmares!” he declares.

Associate professor of contemporary writing and production Dave Howard had Wayne Sermon in his writing skills and arranging I classes. “I remember him as a quiet guy, but someone who asked a lot of good questions in class,” Howard says. “He was focused and super-driven. As guitarists, we had a lot in common because the arranging material applies so well to guitar. I’m happy to see how well his career is going.”

“I met Ben McKee when he was a freshman at Berklee,” Professor Jim Stinnett says. “I first had him in “Arranging I.” He recorded one of his arrangements where he whistled the melody and a solo. It was flawless, and I thought to myself, ‘Whoa, this guy has an ear!’ He was a highly talented and dedicated student.” Stinnett also had McKee as a bass student. “Like virtually every successful musician, Ben is really dedicated and has been since he was 18. He was practicing three to five hours every day.”

“We wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for Mark White,” McKee says. Platzman and McKee were the rhythm section for Mark White’s Eclectic Electrics guitar ensemble for three years. Sermon was in the ensemble for multiple semesters too. “We played five-guitar arrangements of songs by [Pat] Metheny and [John] Scofield as well as tunes from Birth of the Cool and avant-garde classical music,” White says. “These guys are all great musicians with voracious musical appetites. They have cohesiveness as a band because they worked and hung out together so much when they were at Berklee. It’s great to see people so deserving doing so well.”

Other shout-outs go to Platzman’s drum professors Jackie Santos and Ian Froman and to film scoring professor Sheldon Mirowitz. McKee also sings the praises of associate professor of ear training Jane Potter, and both Sermon and Platzman hail Yakov Gubanov for his course on the music of Dmitri Shostakovich.