Berklee Student Gets White House Treatment

Lesley Mahoney
November 17, 2009
First-semester student Mollly Manarchy was invited to the White House to perform.
Photo by Mary Beth Manarchy

When Molly Manarchy came to Berklee this fall, like most incoming students she was hoping for a chance to explore and challenge her musicianship on campus and beyond. What she never expected was an invitation to play at the White House for First Lady Michelle Obama.

Manarchy, a first-semester guitar principal and performance major, was stunned when she received the prestigious invitation to Pennsylvania Avenue; she was asked to participate in a workshop/master class with Grammy-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin.

Read dispatches from the event on Berklee Blogs.

The November 4 class was one of four that took place at the White House that day as part of the White House Musical Series, sponsored by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities and the brainchild of Michelle Obama. This day focused on classical music.

For her part, Manarchy got a lesson from Isbin as she played Hans Werner Henze's "Drei Tentos" in front of about 25 middle- and high-school students.

"She's like a guitar hero," Manarchy said of Isbin. Manarchy was one of two students chosen to assist and work with Isbin; classical guitarist and high school guitarist Tim Callobre was the other.

"She really focused on the musical and emotional aspect, helping me improve my expression and make it more interesting so that the audience could get more involved," Manarchy recalled. "She opened up a lot of new ideas for me."

Isbin coached Manarchy on the value of holding back on stretching the rhythm. "I tend to stretch the rhythm a lot," she said. "She taught me that sometimes it's better not to stretch it; if you stretch it too much, you can lose the beauty."

Along with Isbin, renowned violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and pianist Awadagin Pratt taught the other master classes. Following the classes, the teachers performed, and Manarchy played Luc Levesque's "Nota Bene" with a guitar ensemble composed of students.

"It was so amazing, inspiring, and humbling just to be around more than 100 kids, to be around that kind of energy," said Manarchy. "Everyone there was so excited about music."

The classes, workshops, and performances followed Michelle Obama's words on the importance of out-of-school and after-school arts and humanities programs before she presented the Coming Up Taller Award, which Berklee's City Music Program earned in 2008. The first lady also spoke before the afternoon performances.

Manarchy, who hails from Chicago, is already a decorated guitar player with myriad honors, including winning the Guitar Foundation International Guitar Competition and Down Beat magazine's student award for Best Classical Soloist. Honing her skills at an early age as a classical guitarist, Malarchy continues to play in that style but has been exploring heavy metal here at Berklee.

Manarchy aspires to be a performer but, as a result of her experience with Isbin at the White House, hopes she can some day be an inspiration to budding musicians, whether through a performance or a clinic. "I would hope someday to be inspiring to kids or anyone who wants to play music," she said.