Berklee Today

Ninth Encore Gala Honors the Berks, Raises $676,000 for Scholarships

  President Lee Berk and his wife, Susan, addressed 2003 Encore Gala guests following a video presentation and a musical tribute to the outgoing president and his wife, who were the gala's guests of honor.
  Photography by Farnsworth Blaylock Photos

This year's edition of the annual Encore Gala far exceeded expectations by attracting more than 1,800 guests and raising $641,000 for the Berklee City Music program (BCM). In anticipation of a larger-than-usual crowd, the location of the October 18, 2003, event was changed from the Harvard Club to the more spacious Sheraton Boston Hotel in the Back Bay.

Lynch Associates, Inc., was the principal lead sponsor of this year's Encore Gala, along with O'Brien Management, Inc. and Orchid Partners as colead sponsors. Berklee trustees Scott Benson and Rhoda Sapers served as cochairs of the gala.

In addition to the customary musical festivities, this year's gala featured the additional component of honoring the contributions of President Lee Eliot Berk and his wife Susan G. Berk as they prepare for retirement at the end of this academic year. Marking the Berks' decision to relocate to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a Southwest motif was everywhere in evidence from the menu items to the decorations on the main concourse to the western boots, hats, and bolo ties of gala attendees. On hand to enhance the celebration was saxophonist Branford Marsalis '80 and his quartet who headlined with a performance in the main ballroom.

  Dennis Montgomery III (right) presents Lee Eliot Berk (center) sheet music to "A Musical Fortress: The Lee Berk Song" penned by Montgomery and Al Kooper (left).

Before the concert, a special video tribute to President Berk was screened. It chronicled the success of the BCM program, President Berk's brainchild, through the words of its youthful participants. In addition to enthusiastic testimonials from a few of the 750 economically disadvantaged urban students who have participated in the program since its inception in 1992, there was emotional footage of students being awarded four-year, full-tuition scholarships by President Berk. In many cases, the overjoyed students embraced President Berk. Responding to the video, Berk told the audience, "You've seen the students and heard their music. You know, the hugs I've gotten were meant for others besides me. They are meant for each of you who is giving these musicians the opportunity for a life in music. Thank you for helping their dreams of attending Berklee become a reality."

A live musical tribute was presented by BCM singers and instrumentalists with help from Assistant Professor Dennis Montgomery III and former faculty member Al Kooper. For the occasion, Kooper and Montgomery penned an r&b tune that they titled "Musical Fortress: The Lee Berk Song" and performed it with BCM students and members of the Berklee Reverence Gospel Ensemble. In the verses Montgomery sang lyrics about President Berk's accomplishments punctuated by rhythmic interjections from the choir singing "Lee Berk" in harmony.

  Branford Marsalis performed with his quartet.

Taking the microphone afterwards, President Berk said, "Praise the Lord! There is no greater gift than music. I've loved every minute I've spent at the college expanding opportunities in music education." Susan Berk also spoke, saying, "I too am overwhelmed. The joy of music warms my heart. Thanks to those who made the video tribute, those onstage, and you who are at the dinner tonight. I appreciate the interactions I've had over the years with the Berklee students, faculty, and staff. Ours has been an active lifestyle on the local, national, and international scenes. I've had a hell of a good time here tonight."

Once again this year, a key attraction was the silent auction (sponsored by Rockefeller & Co., Inc. and cochaired by Isabel Pisano and trustee Don Rose). It featured more than 150 items including such instruments as digital keyboards, guitars, basses, drums, brass and woodwind instruments, computer software and hardware, vacation packages to several exotic locations, works of art, bottles of fine wine, and sports and theater ticket packages. After the bid sheets were tallied, the auction contributed $76,000 to the total.

  Guests in the Santa Fe Club were treated to bluegrass music and instruction in square dancing.

In several Sheraton ballrooms, bands of student and faculty musicians presented a range of musical treats. The Salsa Club spotlighted the18-piece Berklee Salsa Ensemble. The Santa Fe room presented country and bluegrass acts and square dancing. Berklee-a-Go-Go shook to the sounds of Berklee's Tower of Power Ensemble and the Berklee Reverence Gospel Ensemble. The Rising Star Club hosted jazz, pop, rock, and funk groups throughout the evening. Also featured were the Berklee Urban Outreach Orchestra, the Rainbow Band, the a cappella group Syncopation, and vocalist Christy Bluhm with the Larry Monroe Band. To cap off the evening, Al Kooper and the Funky Faculty (Bob Doezema, Tom Stein, Larry Finn, Jeff Stout, and Daryl Lowery) played two blues sets paving the way for the midnight-to-2:00 a.m. Blues Breakfast and jam session (raising $35,000 for the Sarah Vaughan Scholarship Fund) sponsored by Blaylock & Partners, the Boston Red Sox, and NESN. Former Red Sox great Jim Rice signed baseballs for Blues Breakfast guests.

  Receipts for the 150 silent auction items brought in more than $76,000.

"I was pleased to cochair this year's gala, and particularly to celebrate the service of President Lee Berk," said Rhoda Sapers. "Over 1,000 musicians have performed at the Encore Gala over the past nine years, raising $3 million for Berklee City Music students. This year's event was the best ever. I'm so glad I was a part of it."

  2003 Encore Gala Sponsors
  Grand ballroom sponsors included ARAMARK Campus Services, Longwood Security Services,Inc., Newbury Comics, Inc., and Rhoda and Bill Sapers.
  Music room sponsors included Acordia, Ascent Venture Partners, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Charles River Ventures, the Chickering Group, Gabelli Asset Management, Inc., Hero's Stone Records, Koster Insurance Agency, Loomis, Sayles & Company, L.P., Piano Forte, Inc., Rockefeller & Co., Inc., and Thorbahn & Associates.