The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

by Larry Bethune '71, Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students

"It's amazing how much this place has changed. The students are so good now, the teachers are unreal, the music is tremendous, and the new technology is mind-boggling. I'm so happy I'm here, now."

-A Berklee student conversation overheard in September 1967.

For me, the drive away from my New Jersey home in 1967 was a drive toward freedom. My father was taking me to the Disneyland of jazz education: Berklee College of Music. He slowed at the curb of the new building at 1140 Boylston Street and barely stopped the car while I unloaded my drums and a single suitcase. Then off he went to turn my childhood bedroom into an office. I don't really know who was happier.

That very first night, I jammed with some older students who were way better than I was (though, in my town, I was considered the best musician). I loved being the worst in the band for a change. Now I was really going to learn something and become a monster player and a great composer. This was just the path I needed.

Fast-forward to 2011. During my 44 years at Berklee, I have talked to thousands of students, and the story stays pretty much the same: we are musicians, driven to perform and create, with even our health sometimes taking a back seat. We are what we are, and we've always been musicians: passionate about music, totally engaged in creating music, loving every minute. Maybe the way we do this changes-sometimes slightly and sometimes markedly-but our heart remains the same. We love music.

When I arrived at Berklee, there were roughly 400 students, now there are 4,000. It's arguable whether the top students were better then or now. It's like debating whether the 1918 Red Sox could beat the 2004 team: it's a fun but hardly useful dispute.

The Berklee faculty members have always been leaders in their fields and active practitioners. The faculty, staff, and administration have always wanted to get a handle on the future and get there before any other music school. The difference is that today, we have more of the wherewithal to achieve that goal.

Founder Lawrence Berk built a music school with the promise of greatness. Former President Lee Eliot Berk enabled us to become a more vital player in academia and organized the college to secure that promise. Now, President Roger Brown is taking us to the next level by unleashing all our talents and helping us become even more financially and organizationally solid. In the past, Larry and Lee Berk made us a force in the world of music education. Now, The Force is with us as we come closer to achieving our real vision: to be the best music school in the world-maybe the best the world has ever known.

We describe Berklee as a school of contemporary music. Many new to the college have asked me what "contemporary music" means (I guess I have now achieved Berklee "geezership" status). After all these years, I have decided that whatever I am listening to now, whatever moves me now, is "contemporary." People have also asked me, "When was it better to be at Berklee: when you came here in 1967 or now?" My Zen answer is, "Then is now." Ergo, it's just as good and "as good" is better. Frankly, we now have and are on the verge of having more of what we dreamed of in 1967. Now is the time.