Results of the CRI Announced

  Lawrence Simpson gave the findings of the Curriculum Review Initiative on September 22.
  Phil Farnsworth

On September 22, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Lawrence Simpson held a town hall-style meeting at which he announced the results of Berklee's Curriculum Review Initiative (CRI). The aim of this four-year project is to evaluate Berklee's curriculum and modify it accordingly to keep the college at the fore of contemporary music education.

Simpson discussed the college's success in meeting its student-retention goals. "We have a record enrollment at Berklee, and it's not because we had a large entering class," he said. "Our advising system is helping to guide students, and our early-alert system has helped us work with faculty to identify students who are having difficulty so we can intervene earlier."

Citing the volatile changes that have swept the music industry in recent years, Simpson noted, "If we're going to achieve our vision to be the world's leading contemporary music school, then we have to be responsive and lead the way with an innovative curriculum."

CRI began with an inquiry phase during which the project team held town hall-style discussions; focus groups; and department-by-department meetings with faculty, students, staff, alumni, and external constituents to thoroughly canvass for opinions on which aspects of Berklee's curriculum should be changed and which should remain intact. Team members spoke with representatives from various areas of the music industry. For instance, Kari Juusela, the dean of the Professional Writing and Musical Technology Division, visited various colleges and universities to learn about their successful programs.

One of the first results of CRI was to reduce the number of introductory classes required for entering students. Feedback indicated that it is difficult for students to develop a sense of community when they have so many commitments during their first semester. Among the other changes put into effect for the fall 2011 semester are 50-minute private lessons for all students; standardized ear-training; a new course titled "Music Applications and Theory," which combines the old "Writing Skills" and "Harmony 1" courses; an introductory seminar for all incoming students titled "Artistry, Creativity, and Inquiry," which challenges them to understand what it means to be an artist in the 21st century.

Core Curriculum Changes

Simpson also announced Berklee's new core curriculum experience, which will be the same for degree and diploma students. This core experience includes the following requirements:

  • five classes of contemporary harmony and arranging
  • four semesters of private instruction
  • four semesters of ensemble experience
  • four semesters of ear training
  • three semesters of tonal harmony and counterpoint
  • two semesters of conducting
  • one semester of music technology
  • two semesters of seminars: "Artistry, Creativity, and Inquiry"; and "Professional Development."

The "Artistry, Creativity, and Inquiry" seminar is a first-semester seminar that challenges students to think about what it means to be an artist in the 21st century. The "Professional Development" seminar is taken by students in their sixth-semester and ensures that all students have an electronic portfolio and have critical-professional skills in résumé writing, auditioning, and job interviewing.

Additionally, Simpson announced two changes outside the core curriculum. Performance majors can now take private lessons on secondary instruments, and all students can declare a minor.

"One thing we heard over and over again from students was that they wanted to have some subspecialties in addition to their majors," Simpson said. "Frankly, I'm surprised at how quickly this has grown; we now have over 15 minors, and the list is growing."

"We are 90 percent of the way there with curriculum review," Simpson added. "The remaining 10 percent will involve requiring every student to have six credits of music history." Under the new plan, all students would be expected to take two credits of music history from a contemporary perspective, two credits of Western art music history, and two credits in a music history elective.

Graduate Degrees at Berklee

"And if this weren't enough," Simpson said, "we have submitted a request to the state of Massachusetts for Berklee to be able to offer both master of music and master of arts degrees." The college has proposed masters degree programs in the following fields of study:

  • contemporary writing and production
  • electronic production and design
  • music business/management
  • music education
  • music therapy
  • scoring for film, video games, and TV
  • studio performance

The hope is to begin offering a masters degree in studio performance for the fall 2012 semester. "This fall, we opened our campus in Valencia, Spain," Simpson said. "We will offer six masters programs there, four of which are set to begin in September of 2012. We will also have opportunities for undergraduate students to study in Valencia beginning January 2012, with a focus on music business/management or Mediterranean music."

Simpson also announced several promotions within the Academic Affairs area. Jay Kennedy has been promoted to vice president for academic affairs and assistant provost, Jeanine Cowen is now vice president for curriculum and innovation, Camille Colatosi was named dean for institutional assessment and graduate study, and Michael Mason will serve as the interim chair for liberal arts.

Simpson also indicated that with the impending retirements, the college will open searches for chairs in the Bass, Composition, Jazz Composition, and Voice departments. The college will also seek assistant chairs in the Contemporary Writing & Production and Voice departments.

Simpson noted a shift in the statistics for principal instruments at the college. "We now have 1,100 voice principals at Berklee," Simpson said. "For decades, guitar has been the dominant instrument at Berklee. But by next fall, it will almost certainly be voice."

Simpson also explained that the college anticipates a re-accreditation visit in 2013 by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and is preparing for it while also adapting to the sweeping changes now taking effect.

Writer and musician Adam Renn Olenn is the Web producer for Berklee's Office of Institutional Advancement.