Berklee Today

Lead Sheet

Looking Back, Looking Ahead
By Executive Vice President Gary Burton '62

How can I possibly capture three decades at Berklee on one page? This is what I am thinking as I sit down to write this. My immediate purpose is to tell you that I have decided to retire from the college next year. But more importantly, I want to tell you what it has meant to be a part of Berklee throughout my career.

Practical details first: As most of you know, Berklee's trustees are launching the search to select President Berk's successor (he will be a tough act to follow). The new president must be available to serve for an extended period of time to establish an effective working relationship with the trustees, and with the faculty and staff, all of whom are responsible for carrying out the college's mission. This position requires talent and great effort consistently applied over a number of years. Since I am already in my sixties, I feel certain that it is time for me to bring my career at Berklee to a conclusion and I wish the new leadership of the college all possible success. As I announce this major transition in my life, I feel compelled to reflect on my experiences at Berklee.

Like all alumni, my Berklee experience began the day I arrived as a first-semester student. Berklee (then known as Berklee School of Music) was housed in a brownstone at the corner of Newbury and Gloucester Streets, and student enrollment numbered somewhere shy of two hundred. I still have vivid memories of my student years. The teachers were inspiring, and being surrounded with music all day long, day after day, was paradise. Most importantly, I was acquiring skills and gaining an understanding of how music works that would see me through many decades and countless new experiences as a professional musician. I'm convinced that helping students develop the ability to grow musically throughout their careers is Berklee's greatest gift to them. It certainly was for me.

After living in New York during the 1960s to become an established player, I had the notion to combine teaching with my performing career, and Berklee was the only place I could envision teaching. So in 1971, I returned to Boston and joined the Berklee faculty. That first year I taught classes in improvisation, small-group arranging, ensemble, and vibraphone. It was a whole new learning experience. Thank goodness for people such as John LaPorta, Herb Pomeroy, Joe Viola, and several others already at Berklee on whom I could rely as role models. Teaching opened up a whole new awareness for me as a musician. I found myself learning more about the things I already knew as I searched for explanations and ways to demonstrate the things I was sharing with my students. I also came to appreciate all the more the creative interaction between musicians that is so necessary in our art form.

While I was away in the 1960s, Berklee had relocated to a larger building, expanded enrollment to more than 400 students, become accredited, and changed its name to Berklee College of Music. The setting was different, but a Berklee education was still what it was all about. Talented young musicians came from all over the country and all over the world to be part of this experience. Among my students that first year were Joe Lovano and John Scofield. And they were merely the first of many outstanding musicians I would meet in the classroom in the years to follow.

My professional career continued to thrive, and I found myself continually learning new music and new concepts from great musicians with whom I collaborated. With players such as Stan Getz, Chick Corea, and Pat Metheny, I was honored to explore new musical ideas inspired by these and many other innovative musicians. Through it all, my Berklee education never let me down.

Over time, Berklee grew in enrollment and facilities, adding concert halls, recording studios and labs, and eventually students numbering in the thousands. In the mid-1980s, I made a significant leap from faculty to administration, becoming dean of curriculum, which meant overseeing courses, programs, and support facilities. Having a job with a desk was something new, but it seemed to work out, and a decade later I was appointed executive vice president, which offered me the opportunity to work closely with President Lee Eliot Berk. Once again I was presented an opportunity to learn from an experienced leader. Now, as my career at Berklee enters its final year, it is the knowledge I acquired from some significant role models, within and outside of Berklee, that I remember most. John LaPorta taught me comping, Herb Pomeroy taught me changes, Stan Getz taught me melody, Chick Corea taught me artistic integrity, Pat Metheny taught me about dedication, and Lee Berk taught me about vision.

One of the enduring traditions among musicians is the willingness to help other musicians learn the craft. We learn as much from one another as we do from reading, listening, or practicing on our own. Throughout my career, I've been in the fortunate position to learn from the best and learn a lot. I hope that I have managed to pass on even half of what was generously imparted to me. Throughout its history, Berklee has continued to offer the best learning experience, and it has been a distinct honor to be a part of the Berklee tradition.

Presidential Search Update

In the Fall 2002 issue of Berklee Today, it was announced that President Lee Eliot Berk will retire in June of 2004. A search committee chaired by Berklee trustee Neal Curtin is working to identify Berklee's next president.

Curtin's 12-member search committee, composed of trustees Luis Alvarez, Mike Dreese, William Holodnak, Allan McLean, Robert Morrison, Alan Reese, Watson Reid, and Sandra Uyterhoeven; faculty members Carl Beatty and Livingston Taylor; and Associate Provost Karen Zorn, has met nine times over the past year to create a profile of the ideal candidate. They recently held two days of meetings in which department chairs, faculty members, faculty union representatives, students, and others were invited to give input to the committee.

The executive search consulting firm EMN Witt/Kieffer is developing the pool of candidates and will present the names of those who are most qualified to the search committee. Curtin and company will then choose a handful of finalists by December 2003 and submit those names to the entire board of trustees in January. Curtin is optimistic about the progress. "Some of the applicants for the position seem very well qualified," he says. "We can fully assess how they stack up once we have interviewed them. We need a person who has the ability to bring the uniqueness of Berklee forward—a 'superman' or 'superwoman' to move Berklee beyond its present achievements toward future ones."

Of course, music figures prominently into the equation for the choice of Berklee's future president. "If a candidate is not a musician, he or she has to at least have a great appreciation for and sensitivity to music," says Curtin. "It will be essential for the new president to understand the core mission of the college and to formulate ideas on advancing it."

The committee's goal has been to conduct the search in the most open manner possible, seeking input from all who want to participate. "We are grateful for all of the input we have gotten from those in the community who have attended our meetings and responded via the website," Curtin says. "Our goal is to select someone who will be a complete success as an administrator and who will have credibility with the Berklee community. It is an awesome responsibility to identify and present such a person to the board of trustees." For forthcoming updates or to give input to Curtin and the search committee, visit