Berklee Today

Facutly Profile

Lauren Passarelli: Fab Guitar

By Mark Small

  Lauren Passarelli
  Associate Professor Lauren Passarelli

According to Associate Professor Lauren Passarelli, her family often tells an anecdote about a comment made by a postman pausing to hear Passarelli, then a toddler, strumming a toy guitar on the porch. "She sounds pretty good," the mailman said to Passarelli's mother. "Does she know what she's doing?"

Passarelli figures that her left-hand fingering probably wasn't making much sense, but feels confident that she was probably strumming a pretty good groove with her right hand. To this day, rhythm guitar playing is her forte. She is drawn more to creating great guitar accompaniment textures than to firing off pyrotechnical solos. Not long after her porch debut, Passarelli first heard the Beatles-a pivotal moment.

"The Beatles became my main musical influence," she says. "I learned so much about melody, song structure, guitar, and arranging from their records." While Passarelli's influences also include James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, and Pat Metheny, her connection to her first inspiration is cemented by her work with the Beatles tribute band All Together Now. The band plays Beatles songs "just like the record," and Passarelli fills the role of guitarist George Harrison.

In 1982, Passarelli earned the distinction of becoming the first woman to receive a degree in guitar performance from Berklee and then became the college's first female guitar instructor two years later. Unlike many Berklee guitar students, Passarelli did not arrive here with dreams of becoming a flashy guitar slinger. "I learned all of the requirements and gave a senior recital that was all instrumental music," she says. "But all the while, I was working on my own songs. The material I learned as a performance major has given my music richness. I'm not a singer/songwriter who plays guitar-all three roles are equal. The first thing that develops as I write is a guitar part that will be the foundation of the song."

To date, Passarelli has penned about 300 songs and released two albums, Among the Ruins (1994) and Shadow Language (2004), with her progressive pop group Two Tru. The band includes collaborator Cindy Brown '83, who produces, arranges, and plays keyboards. Passarelli and Brown handle all tasks, from creating, recording, and mixing the music in their studio to producing the jacket art, issuing the CDs on their own Feather Record label, and promoting the final product. Passarelli currently has two more albums in the pipeline; an instrumental guitar album titled Back to the Bone and another Two Tru outing, Sometimes Blue.

The range of experience Passarelli has gained through years of writing and recording her own music and running a record label has given her a deep well to draw from with her students-far more than melodic minor scales and chord voicings. "Some students choose me as their private teacher because of my interests in playing, writing, and producing my music in my studio," Passarelli says. "I like to find out why they came to Berklee, where they want to go, and how I can help them make choices to reach their musical dreams while staying healthy and sane. It is more than just teaching the modes.

"Teaching at Berklee is my main career; it's my first love. It is easy to share the things that I love about music and guitar all day. I've found that I have been able to be a mentor to my students. I don't really feel like I am imparting knowledge, I feel more like I am an artist in residence coaching people on how to keep their art alive. Society can be hard on artists. It's important to learn how to fit in and stay happy."