Joseph Mulholland

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"The essence of the Harmony Department is music fundamentals as they play out in notation, chord progression, melody, and bass lines. In any other school, they call it theory. And it is theory, but it's much more practical than an ordinary theory class would be. We teach students to take apart the music they listen to and understand how it's put together. They take the music apart like a watch, see what the pieces are and what they're doing. Hopefully, the students learn from that and use that knowledge to create their own music, a watch of their own—but one that still runs."

"What I do in class is a combination of a lot of things. I play lots of examples of all different types of music, music from all over the past hundred years with heavy weighting toward the last 25 or so. The other thing I do is have my students bring in music they are listening to and working on, and we use their music as a tool for exploring the concepts that we need to cover. I've often said that I can teach you something about music from anything. If a song has one chord in it, I can teach you some harmony from that. So if they bring in a Lenny Kravitz tune, we're going to be talking about the bass line, and we're going to learn what the notes are in the bass line and why the bass player played those notes. We're going to learn why the chord progression sounds cool—there's a reason some chord progressions are cooler than others. We're going to listen to the notes in the melody and talk about what those notes are and what relationships they have to the chords and the bass line."

"But it's not just familiar music. I want my students to have a deepened ability to understand what they're hearing. For example, if they hear an unfamiliar piece of music, especially in a style they haven't typically played before, I would like them to perceive the musical elements in that style so they can gain some appreciation for what's new to them. If you can do that, you can grow for the rest of your life. It's one thing to be an expert in your chosen style; it's something very different to be able to grow over a lifetime as a musician and renew yourself."

Career Highlights
  • B.A., Williams College
  • M.M., New England Conservatory of Music
  • Freelance jazz pianist and vocal accompanist
  • Composer and arranger for dance, theater, film, and video
  • Released three CDs with the Joe Mulholland Sextet, including Eye Music, 2001
  • Member of Martin St. Collage, an improvisational music/painting/dance ensemble, 1990–1998
  • Member of the Big & Phat Jazz Big Band and the Indigo Invention Group
  • Music director, Windhover Center for the Performing Arts; composed and recorded sound design and songs for original productions of Peer Gynt, Dogtown Common, and Battle for Pigeon Cove Harbor
  • Performances at the Regattabar, Top of the Hub, Scullers, and the Waterfront Jazz Festival, among others
  • Music director for Didi Stewart and Friends, 1987-1998
  • Taught jazz piano and ensembles at Brown University, 1985-1997
  • Composed and performed in Tango Suite for the Northeast Youth Ballet
  • Created electronic scores for "Intersections" and "My Backyard," modern dance pieces premiered in 2004 and 2005
  • Berklee faculty member since 1994