Ambassadors Make Connections

By Matthew Truss

  Patrice Rushen rehearses the Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra.
  Phil Farnsworth

Inaugurated in 2008, Berklee's Ambassador of Artistry in Education Program offers students opportunities to work with top artists. Ambassadors strive to create new learning environments that students might not encounter in academic or professional settings. Keyboardist, composer, and producer Patrice Rushen was Berklee's first musical ambassador. This September, Nona Hendryx will come aboard as the latest addition to the program.

"We look to match unique artists with opportunities within the college," says Lawrence Simpson, Berklee's provost. "We want artists who can work across the college's four academic divisions so that they will have a broad reach within our community."

As the first ambassador, Rushen helped to shape the program to offer faculty members unique learning opportunities and introduce extracurricular learning models that enrich the student experience. Working with Assistant Professor of Composition Francisco Noya and Melissa Howe, the chair of Berklee's String Department, Rushen introduced her orchestral compositions and arrangements to the students of the Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra (BCSO) to help develop their sense of nuance and large ensemble playing. In the 2010 and 2011 spring concerts, the BCSO played works that Rushen had penned that add a rhythm section and a solo vocalist to the orchestral palette.

Rushen also worked with Darla Hanley, the dean of the Professional Education Division, and Cecil Adderley, the chair of music education, to create a 2010 symposium that offered a multicultural perspective on music education and featured local and international students. This year's symposium examined strategies for different types of learners and those with disabilities. Additionally, Rushen has connected the college with her industry peers Lee Ritenour, Melvin Davis, Will Kennedy, and Karen Briggs for residencies in specific departments.

Nona Hendryx will join students and faculty this fall to develop the "Rock Family Tree," an interactive teaching tool. The tree features biographical information, photos, sound clips, and socioeconomic and historical information to depict how blues, funk, rock, soul, and pop grew and migrated to the Northeast and West. Hendryx will also work with the Electronic Production and Design Department and with students and faculty members Terri Lyne Carrington, Rebecca Perricone, and Amy Merrill to create a musical theater project honoring the life and music of a 20th-century musical icon.

The program will continue to bring the highest-caliber musicians and artists from around the world to work with students and faculty to create new interdisciplinary projects. There is no set term for ambassadors, so ambassadors may extend their terms' original end dates.

"The ambassadors program is one of those wonderful things that emerged organically from unspoken student needs," Simpson says. "It connects them with the graciousness, wisdom, grit, and soulfulness of great artists."