From Roger H. Brown, Berklee President
The following was written for the American Roots Music Program kickoff concert with Mark O'Connor, December 2009.
Good evening, and welcome to what promises to be a spectacular night of music with master composer and fiddler Mark O'Connor, and some of Berklee's finest student performers.
Mark is here through the good offices of Matt Glaser, who is the artistic director of our new American Roots Music Program here at Berklee. Tonight is its coming-out party. Matt was the chair of the college's String Department for more than two decades, and in that time probably did more than anyone else to raise the stature of both jazz string playing, and the place of bluegrass and other roots styles, in American higher education.
Now, by conceiving and leading this new program, Matt will be turned loose to do something many of us here feel passionately about: connecting our students, and by extension music lovers everywhere, to the history and culture of American popular music, as it comes from the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia, urban stoops, and rural back porches, and is expressed in gospel, country, folk, bluegrass, Cajun, polka, Tex-Mex, and a dozen other genres. These truly are the roots—some of the building blocks of today's contemporary music. The American Roots Music Program will put them at the heart of the discussion, to ground and inform Berklee students and all whom they influence, and to make their musical understanding and appreciation far richer.
Over the last half-decade, a literal flood of enormously talented, committed students, eager to play bluegrass and country, old time, folk blues, and Celtic styles have come to our doors. To help accommodate them, we've created an acoustic string principal as a home for mandolin, banjo, and country guitar—used in a range of genres—and we've created additional country ensembles.
This year, our first Fulbright scholarship went to a Berklee student cellist who's now studying traditional Irish music in Limerick. Berklee has become a global destination for staggeringly talented string instrument players, and, partly as a result, Boston is now a folk and roots music mecca that may soon eclipse the legendary scene here in the 1960s.
This is essential music, and essential to our understanding. The roots. Tonight you'll hear them reimagined by a master, and played by some fast-rising acolytes.
Thank you for being here this evening. I am guessing you'll remember tonight for a very long time.
Roger H. Brown
Berklee College of Music