School's in for Summer

  From the left: BCMP students David Alexis, Jessica Johnson, and Christina McMullen sang the National Anthem before a Red Sox baseball game at Boston's Fenway Park in June 2009
  Phil Farnsworth

Throughout the year, Charyn Harris '83, the conductor of music programs at the Los Angeles-based organization A Place Called Home, watched her students practice their instruments, play music together, and study music theory. Four auditioned for Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program, an immersion course that could change their lives. One student won a full scholarship to the program's rock-music institute. That left three students eager to attend Berklee, and Harris didn't know whether all three would be able to attend.

Their families couldn't afford to send them. Harris knew the center's budget could send only one student musician to Berklee for the summer and was looking for additional funds. She even created a special group to support music at A Place Called Home. But without further support, two students might have been out of luck.

Then the Johnson Scholarship Foundation stepped in with a five-year, $250,000 challenge grant to provide 36 Berklee City Music Network students with full scholarships to the Five-Week Summer Performance Program this year. And that's not all. Berklee has pledged to use the gift to raise an additional $750,000. As a result, $1 million will be raised through this initiative. The number of scholarships will increase each year and, by 2015, will reach a total of 50. Ultimately the Johnson grant will give 218 young people the chance to spend a summer making music and connections across cultures and countries.

This show of support is only the latest development in Berklee's fruitful and long-lasting relationship with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, which focuses on education as the route to empowerment, particularly for young students from disadvantaged backgrounds. City Music Network was the perfect intersection for the two organizations. "We think it's a great program, and it is in line with our mission and strategy," says Johnson Board of Trustees President R. Malcolm Macleod. "There's a great alignment there."

A Long-Standing Relationship

Founded in 1991 in Boston, Berklee City Music Program (BCMP), a nonprofit education program that focuses on underserved 4th- through 12th-graders. BCMP now includes 30 partner organizations in the City Music Network and schools nationwide that share Berklee's philosophy, including Tipitina's Foundation in New Orleans, the People's Music School in Chicago, and the Urban Assembly School of Music and Art in Brooklyn. All use the Berklee PULSE online music method to teach principles of music via popular contemporary r&b, hip-hop, Latin, jazz, and rock tunes. The program has a proven track record and enables participants to achieve advanced placement in music theory and harmony classes upon entering Berklee; it also affords Berklee the opportunity to uncover great talent.

Since 2000 the Johnson Foundation staff has helped BCMP thrive and succeed. "We've participated in every aspect," Macleod says, from the Saturday classes to mentorship to scholarships.

"They were one of the pioneer funders of the Berklee City Music program," says Marjorie O'Malley, Berklee's assistant vice president for institutional advancement. "They really believed in the whole idea of preparing under-served high-school students to excel at Berklee, investing in them early, and giving them the skill set they need to succeed in college."

Most recently, the foundation concentrated on building an endowed fund to support students to matriculate at Berklee, offering $450,000 each year over five years. Together the foundation and Berklee have raised $4.3 million: a sufficient amount to fund in perpetuity 11 full-tuition scholarships for BCMP students to attend Berklee.

"Berklee City Music would not be developed to the stage that it is now without the loyal, consistent leadership of the Johnson Foundation," O'Malley says.

Macleod saw this development firsthand when he visited A Place Called Home. "It was fabulous," he says. "We thought that Berklee had chosen an excellent partner. . . . They're rock-solid. They're a well-run organization." After visiting the exemplary City Music Network partner, the foundation decided to support the continued expansion of the City Music model nationwide by creating the Five-Week scholarship initiative.

Those short five weeks can really advance a City Music Network student. "They've been working so hard, and this is an experience that can really change their lives," Harris says. Many of the youth at A Place Called Home have never left their neighborhoods and don't believe that studying at Berklee can become a reality for them. "Every kid that goes comes back really inspired," Harris says. Meeting a universe of students, seeing that they can play with the best of them, and having professors who take them seriously as musicians "really opens their eyes in a huge way," Harris says.

Macleod has the same view of the crucial benefits of the Five-Week program for a City Music Network student. After coming to Berklee for a summer, "they're no longer intimidated," he says. "Money is a big barrier, but I think the fact that nobody in their family's done [anything like this] is a bigger barrier. You break that down, and you unleash a whole world of possibilities."