Berklee Riffs: Artistry, Creativity, and Inquiry Seminar

Rob Hochschild
October 1, 2010
Two of the three books students will read in Berklee first-semester seminar, bassist Victor Wooten's <i>The Music Lesson,</i> and W.A. Mathieu's <i>The Listening Book.</i>
Beth Denisch (right, facing camera), associate professor of composition, is one of 20 faculty members across the college teaching the Artistry, Creativity, and Inquiry Seminar.

Like Oz's Dorothy, Berklee students arrive as if the universe has just delivered on their heel-clicking dreams. After all, to many, getting here feels like coming home. But that arrival also comes with challenges, as every new class of students quickly learns.

Enter LHUM-100, the Artistry, Creativity and Inquiry Seminar, Berklee's version of the freshman seminar, being piloted this semester to help students orient to the Berklee world and to get their lives as artists off to a good start.

Last month, during the first week of classes, Composition Department faculty member Beth Denisch kicked off her 10-student seminar by asking students to say a few words to the group about their background and plans. One student confessed that he hadn't decided which major to choose.

"This is the time not to be sure," said Denisch, who struck a gentle, encouraging, and knowledgeable tone throughout the class. "It's part of what we're going to be exploring."

Faculty members from departments across the college are teaching the seminar to about 300 students in 20 sections. The college is planning to expand it to all first-semester students in the coming year. 

"We wanted to create a class that is uniquely Berklee's and help students really understand what it means to be entering this life of the artist," said Camille Colatosti, chair of liberal arts. "We want students to think about what it means to be a musician. We'll ask, 'What does it mean to be an artist? What is art? What kind of artist are you going to be? How are you going to connect with other artists? With society? What's your role? What is the role of art?'"

For Denisch's students, musing on those questions began in the very first class, after she handed them the assignment of beginning to draft their artist statement. They'll work on their statements throughout the semester and tackle several other projects designed to help them focus their objectives as musicians. Other assignments include interviewing working musicians, hearing concerts of music from unfamiliar genres, and creating an electronic portfolio.

But like freshman seminars offered by most colleges, the new course will also help students simply get acclimated to the Berklee environment and how they navigate a path here to help them achieve their goals.

"Berklee seems like a place to find a direction for what I want to do musically," student Calvin Williams said during Denisch's class. "All I really know right now is I want to be a musician, but I have no idea what I want to do, so I want to be exposed to a million different options. This seems like a great place to be for that."

As Williams and his classmates seem to have already learned, there is, in fact, no place quite like Berklee. And that's why it makes so much sense to start a class that helps them get to know the place.

Berklee Riffs offer snapshots of day-to-day life at the college.