Steve Heck Room Named
Lee Eliot Berk, Steve Heck, and Stan Hatoff
Nobody had told the student that the reports of Steve Heck's death had been greatly exaggerated. The student had taken a class with the popular Piano Department instructor over the summer and planned on signing up for another with Heck in the fall. He noticed "G. Heck" in the registration book, but didn't realize that the G referred to Heck's given first name, George. He didn't know what had become of his teacher until he passed by the Steve Heck Room, Berklee's new multipurpose concert, reception, and informal gathering space funded by Heck's longtime friend and former student, Stan Hatoff. The student saw the plaque and the picture next to the door. Well, that was that. Everyone knows that rooms are dedicated posthumously.
"He was freaked out," Heck says. "Later, he saw me coming out of a classroom and said, 'Steve! You're alive!' I said, 'I think so.'"
The Steve Heck Room, located in the lobby of Berklee's 1140 Boylston Street building, is the first facility at the college to be named in honor of a living person. Once a more conventional lounge and study area, the renovated Heck Room features ISDN lines for high-speed web access, a high-definition television screen for news and broadcasts of special Berklee events, and performance space for the upcoming acoustic Steve Heck Music Series.
"They did a fantastic job," says Hatoff. "This is the number one thing you see when you walk into the building. When you get a bulletin, it says such and such is happening in the Steve Heck Room. I get such a kick out of that."
Though Hatoff had taken courses in classical music decades ago, the style never really connected with him. What he loved was show tunes - Heck describes him as a "walking computer" of Broadway history - and in the '80s he decided to give them a try.
"I certainly wasn't going to do it for a living," Hatoff says. "It was just for my own amusement and amazement."
Around that time, Hatoff met Heck in a piano bar and hoped the talented player offered lessons. He did - he even made house calls - and he was just the teacher Hatoff was looking for.
"He was always prepared," Hatoff says, "always on time. He made it interesting... He enjoyed what he was doing. It wasn't a question of giving a lesson and getting whatever he was going to get for it. It was a challenge to him."
Although business commitments compelled Hatoff to stop his studies after about a year, the two men had grown close, and Hatoff had a new proposition.
"I said, 'Tell you what, instead of giving me lessons, let's be friends,'" Hatoff says.
This arrangement has been much more successful - 20 years and counting - and with the opening of the Heck Room, it's now enshrined at Berklee. At first, Heck himself didn't believe it.
"It was overwhelming," says Heck, who graduated from Berklee in 1978 and who built upon his first Berklee faculty stint as a Summer Performance Program teacher in 1991 to become a part-time instructor at the college. "It was kind of like a dream, like, 'Is this really happening?' First, it didn't really hit me, but the more I thought about it, I said, 'This is incredible. You've got a room with your name on it, especially at an institution like Berklee.'"
The Steve Heck Room has been open for several months now, so the idea of it, at least, has sunk in for the facility's namesake.
"It's weird when you walk in because you kind of know it's your room," Heck says. "You have this good feeling. All of a sudden you're a star for a second... It's interesting to see people in there who don't have me for class and who don't know me all of a sudden do a double take."