Berklee Turns Tables in Helsinki

Lesley Mahoney
December 23, 2008
MP&E professor Stephen Webber performs at the Close Encounters Festival in Helsinki, Finland.
Ryan Nava, Keith Dickerhofe, Brian "Raydar" Ellis, and Stephen Webber
Photo courtesy of Stephen Webber
Photo courtesy of Jason Camelio

For the first time, Berklee took its turntable know-how abroad for the international music scene to devour.

Music production and engineering professor Stephen Webber, who launched the first Turntable Technique class at the college in 2004; professor and alumnus Brian "Raydar" Ellis; and students Keith Dickerhofe and Ryan Nava held turntable clinics during Berklee's annual visit to the Helsinki Pop & Jazz Conservatory's Close Encounters Festival. Neff Irizarry II, the festival's artistic director and a Berklee alumnus, and Marta Schmidt of the conservatory helped to coordinate the Berklee visit.

The faculty and students at the conservatory—a Berklee International Network partner—enthusiastically responded to what were novel concepts for them. "There are not a lot of conservatories that deal much with hip-hop yet. We're ahead of the curve here," notes Webber. "It's such a good representation of Berklee, of our core principle: to teach musicianship through contemporary music."

Webber offered the clinic Turntable Technique: The Art of the DJ (also the title of his Berklee course and his book). Ellis held a clinic on the history and development of MCs and rapping, and Dickerhofe and Nava offered one that delved into what it means to be Berklee students and DJs in the United States.

"They were amazingly well-attended and well-received," Webber says of the clinics. "There was such a palpable interest. . . . It was something they were really interested in and hadn't had the chance to have a lot of up-close demonstration with."

The festival culminated in a performance by the turntable gurus, showcasing their talent. The performance included a solo by Webber, a piece commissioned by String Department associate professor Mimi Rabson entitled "Flash Meets Miles" that's done with one turntable, a looping pedal, and guitar.

Since Berklee launched the turntable class in 2004, it has become very popular. Each semester, scores of students are turned away, Webber says. Ensembles have been incorporated, and Ellis recently came on board to facilitate teaching multiple sections of the course.

By offering formal training and education in turntablism, Berklee dispels many of the misconceptions regarding hip-hop, Webber says. "So much of what people know about hip-hop has been hijacked by gangsta rap. Not to put down gangsta rap, but it's just one piece of the puzzle. . . . We talk about the cultural roots of hip-hop and the musical side of things."

By sharing these concepts with an international audience, Berklee has made turntablism and hip-hop that much more accessible.