Already Making a Difference

As Berklee students work toward their personal goals this spring, the college is making excellent progress on its own institutional goal: to raise $50 million through Giant Steps, Berklee's first capital campaign. We're on track to do it, and gifts from our 7,500 donors are already making a difference.

The college now boasts two new focused areas of study: the Berklee Global Jazz Institute (BGJI) and the American Roots Music Program.

BGJI is an honors performance program with a holistic twist. About 20 top students travel the world, explore multidisciplinary approaches, and work to promote social change. The emphasis draws on the personal ideals and path of the institute's artistic director, Grammy-winning pianist and Berklee Professor Danilo Pérez .

As BGJI Managing Director Marco Pignataro puts it, "You have this great talent. What do you do with it?" These students have used it to reach out. Last year, members of the BGJI performed and taught at the Panama, Monterey, Newport, and Puerto Rico jazz festivals. Spring 2011 destinations include Italy and New Orleans. But it's not all stardust. BGJI musicians also played a gig at a Massachusetts prison hospital.

"We really develop this idea of the artist as agent of change in the community," Pignataro says. It's a "different mindset about what artists are and what they can do."

The in-class curriculum uses a rolling residency model, with a different faculty member or visiting artist each week. Some of Berklee's top jazz faculty, including saxophonists Joe Lovano and George Garzone, now teach exclusively for the institute.

Thanks to Giant Steps, jazz isn't the only genre that has gotten special attention. The American Roots Music Program creates an official focus on Americana styles.

With alumni starring in hot bluegrass bands such as the Infamous Stringdusters, and students such as virtuoso mandolinist Sierra Hull, "Berklee has become an epicenter" in the roots-music world, according to Matt Glaser, the artistic director of the American Roots Program.

But it's one thing to have a hot jam scene and another to promote and teach roots music as an institution. The American Roots Music Program "creates an educational focus that doesn't exist at any other college," Glaser says. It's "a brilliant expansion of curriculum opportunities."

One Giant Steps donation got the program off the ground; two others brought in additional visiting artists who specialize in banjo and country-blues guitar. This semester the roster will include banjoists Béla Fleck, Noam Pikelny, and Tony Trischka and guitarists Paul Rishell, Woody Mann, and Corey Harris.

"The funding allows us to deepen the student experience," Glaser says. "And that's a tremendous gift to the students."

Another initiative, Berklee's City Music Program (BCMP) builds skills and dreams in underprivileged youth in Boston and nationally, culminating, for some, in the gift of a full scholarship to the college.

Thanks to Giant Steps, this year, for the first time, every deserving student received a full-tuition scholarship, says J. Curtis Warner, the program's director. Despite the economic downturn, Berklee's annual gala raised $1.4 million in 2010 for BCMP scholarships.

With the $50 million goal in sight, there's no reason to stop. Every dollar contributes to the goal of enriching the Berklee experience for the world's most promising students.