Berklee Welcomes Entering Class at Convocation

By 
Ed Symkus
September 9, 2015
Student Arnetta Johnson performs at the convocation concert.
James Morales '06 offers lessons from the music industry.
Student Sarah Messias
A line of drummers and Berklee's mascot, Mingus, marched down the aisles of the Berklee Performance Center.
Berklee President Roger H. Brown
Gabriel Ryfer Cohen, a student from Brazil, speaks.
The Full Circle band performs.
Student Danny Garza
Photo by Mike Spencer
Photo by Mike Spencer
Photo by Mike Spencer
Photo by Mike Spencer
Photo by Mike Spencer
Photo by Mike Spencer
Photo by Mike Spencer
Photo by Mike Spencer

Before the first of two convocation sessions to welcome entering Berklee students got under way on August 30 at Berklee Performance Center, those students and many of their parents made their way through a gauntlet of three dozen peer advisors in the BPC lobby—established students wearing “I Am Berklee” T-shirts, waving pompons, and cheering the college’s newest members. The energy level only increased as, after taking their seats and filling the venue, they were again greeted by the peer advisors, this time being led down the aisles by Berklee mascot Mingus the Jazz Cat and a raucous gaggle of marching percussionists.

Opening remarks by Betsy Newman, vice president for student affairs/dean of students, touched on the idea that Berklee is a community of “unique, special, even quirky people” and that this new class was about to embark on a journey of self-discovery. She urged them to take note of the college’s Latin motto, Esse quam videri, “to be, not seem to be.”

Jay Kennedy, vice president for academic affairs/vice provost, then welcomed the crowd to “the best music school in the world,” spoke of the universe of possibilities offered here, and tied it all together by reciting his own comically paraphrased version of “Putting It Together” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.”

Film scoring major Gabriel Ryfer Cohen, the event’s student speaker, congratulated the incoming class’ decision to follow its passion, then offered three tips: Be open-minded, daring, and say yes (try out new things); be mindful, sensible, and say no (take care of yourself and get more than three hours of sleep); be humble and say thank you (musicians hire other musicians, especially people they like).

Berklee President Roger H. Brown proudly noted that virtually every state in America is represented in this class; explained that each student there was chosen by Berklee because "we’re looking for creativity, devotion, compassion, and a musical ability that makes you unique”; and that by trusting the process at Berklee, “You’ll be impeccably well-prepared when opportunity presents itself.” Brown’s three points of advice included: Go to class; help make this a safe and healthy campus; and help one another achieve success.

Music for Everyone

The convocation’s keynote speaker was James Morales ’06, music producer and cofounder of the New York music production team The Elev3n. He recalled music being a part of his everyday life as a kid, and said that even though he played drums, piano, and saxophone, he had planned on becoming on lawyer. His mind began to change when his high school music teacher said that he envisioned him becoming a professional musician, and then his mother suggested that he go to Berklee. Morales said that developing musical relationships with other students, and learning from them, was a major factor in his Berklee experience. He also spoke of the importance of music for everyone. “Our gifts aren’t only for us,” he said, “but serve a greater purpose for others.”

Listen to James Morales talk about his new production team, The Elev3n:

With the words done, the convocation morphed into a Yo Team-produced program of music, featuring two 20-minute sets that let the people in the seats know what Berklee is all about. First up was Arnetta Johnson and S.U.N.N.Y. (Sounds Uplifting Nobility through Notes and Youth), a five-piece (and, at one point, six-piece) band playing a set of bop originals and featuring Johnson letting loose a flurry of notes on her trumpet, and either trading leads with or playing in unison with tenor saxophonist Ryan Linvill.

The concert’s musical director, Ken Zambello, professor of ensembles, speaking briefly during a stage change, advised new students to “hit the ground running”; introduced the second group, the funk and R&B outfit Full Circle; then got a laugh when “technical difficulties” reared their head, and pianist (for both bands) Michael Wooten quietly played what Zambello called “esoteric background filler music.” With the problem quickly fixed, Full Circle, directed by drummer Macston Maccow, began its set of originals and covers, featuring four separate lead singers, each taking a solo song before joining together in a finale. The show’s highlight, suggested by a roar of approval from the audience, was vocalist Christopher Scott, going for and grabbing the high notes on Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones.”