The 2011 Academic Year Begins

  From the left: Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs/Provost Lawrence Simpson, alumna Robin McKelle, and President Roger H. Brown addressed entering students at the September 4 convocation. (credit: Gabriel José Peguero Céspedes)
  Gabriel Josࢹ Peguero Cépedes
  Members of the student a cappella group Pitch Slapped perform for faculty and staff members during Opening Day at Symphony Hall.
  Phil Farnsworth
  As the Opening Day keynote speaker, singer Nona Hendryx gave a multimedia presentation that included a performance with her "audio tutu."
  Phil Farnsworth
  The Opening Day festivities included a barbecue and drum circle on the Fens, which were open to the entire Berklee community.
  Phil Farnsworth

On September 4 the college officially welcomed 938 new students to campus at Berklee's Entering Student Convocation & Concert. The program included inspirational words from members of the college leadership as well as remarks from this year's alumni speaker, vocalist Robin McKelle '99, and student speaker, Randy Patterson '13. Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students Lawrence Bethune told the entering students, "As a musician, maybe some considered you different in high school. Well, we're all just like you here. Welcome to your planet."

MP&E Associate Professor Prince Charles Alexander spoke to the students about making good career decisions at Berklee and beyond. "As a faculty member, I don't want to tell students what to think, I just want you to think," Alexander said.

During his time at Berklee, Patterson recalled, students and faculty members have helped him immeasurably. "No one makes it anywhere alone," Patterson said. "You are now surrounded by the newest members of your extended family. Get to know them; they're awesome."

President Roger H. Brown gave background on members of the entering class, which he said is the most selectively chosen entering class in Berklee's history. The president highlighted the achievements of members of this new class, including a student who composed an original opera in high school; another who danced with the Moscow Ballet as a child; yet another who composed a successful jingle for a pickle company; and others who have performed in a Broadway production of the Lion King, composed music for video games, speak eight languages, and toured the country with a circus. He congratulated them on choosing the path of the artist. "If you have the capacity to create something beautiful and share it with the world, you'll have a certain job security that others don't have."

Produced by Berklee's Yo Team, the Convocation Concert featured music in an array of styles. The opening act was the Berklee Middle Eastern Fusion Ensemble, which featured vocalists and traditional brass, woodwind, string, and percussion players and virtuosic performers on the Middle-Eastern instruments qanun and oud. Saxophonist and vocalist Grace Kelly and her six-piece band played four of Kelly's jazz and pop originals as well as George Gershwin's "Summertime." The final act was the Berklee Aretha/Chaka/Stevie/Marvin Ensemble playing classic r&b songs. Robin McKelle, who joined the 14-piece band to sing the Leonard Cohen song "Everybody Knows," got the house rocking.

A few days later, on September 9, Opening Day began with a brunch at Boston's Symphony Hall to welcome faculty and staff members to the start of the new academic year. The event, "Connect, Reflect, Inspire," featured a performance by the student a cappella group Pitch Slapped and remarks from student, faculty, staff, and administration speakers.

Vice President for Academic Affairs/Provost Lawrence Simpson also discussed the curriculum changes and noted that 40 new faculty members have been added to help implement these developments. [See the related story on page 4.] Simpson also noted that three of the new faculty members are members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

President Brown discussed the new building under construction at 168 Massachusetts Avenue. "On the former site of McDonald's and Arirang restaurant, we will have a 16-story dormitory," Brown said. "It will give us 370 new dorm beds so we will be able to house every new student that wants to be in Berklee housing. The building will also have a two-story dining hall that will double as a student concert venue. Brown also described the new MP&E facilities that will offer 300 percent more studio capacity than the college now has. That will include a large scoring soundstage capable of seating up to 55 musicians at once. "For the first time in Berklee's history, we will have an iconic custom-designed building that we have created from the ground up," Brown said.

Closing the event was keynote speaker Nona Hendryx. She emerged from a side door onto the Symphony Hall floor followed by a spotlight. Hendryx wore an "audio tutu," a plexiglass skirt equipped with a wireless headset microphone, speakers, and an iPod, allowing her to walk through the crowd and perform songs while controlling the parameters of her performance. Drawing on a theme of the day, Hendryx noted that she uses the tutu to better connect with listeners. "It enables me to get closer to the public and to go out into the street, more as a town crier than as a singer." Hendryx performed a number of selections, including some from her Skin Diver CD.

Hendryx also detailed how she started her career at 16 and shared experiences she's had during her 50 years in show business. In a fitting close to the program and launch of the academic year, Hendryx addressed the faculty. "Some teachers inspire students for a lifetime. I'm so grateful for a teacher who did that for me."