Michael Wartofsky

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"I'd say one of the main functions of the Harmony Department is to ensure a certain level of musicianship among Berklee grads. And then, on a deeper level, it gives us the tools we need to be better writers, arrangers, and performers. I studied at Berklee for a year after already having an undergrad music degree. One year of Berklee, and especially Berklee harmony, changed the way I compose and changed the way I think about music. This system is unique to our school, and we're very fortunate to have it passed down to us. It seemed a lot more practical than the music theory I had studied previously, especially since I specialize in musical theater. Analyzing jazz standards is basically analyzing the American Songbook, which is mostly Broadway songs, so it very specifically helped me think about my music in a new way."

"My musical theater course is unique at Berklee for many reasons, primarily because we're writing different kinds of songs. It doesn't mean they have to be in a certain style. They don't have to be in the style of 42nd Street. You can write in the style that works for the scene—it can be rock, jazz, pop, r&b, folk, or whatever. But the songs are theatrical. They have dramatic progression in them or storytelling. One main area we work on is song form, because musical theater songs tend to be structured in aaba form, and most students are used to writing verse-chorus, which we also do. But it's fun to work on aaba tunes because they're inherently dramatic. They say something, go to a contrasting section that says something new, and then return for a final statement and often a surprise. So we use the form to bring a character to a new destination. And you have to balance that with the need for a hook, for a certain amount of repetition, just like a regular song."

"I also initiated the Klezmer and Yiddish Music Ensemble. I love the Yiddish language, which I studied formally after years of having heard my dad speak it to my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I really just love bringing a little bit of this klezmer and Yiddish heritage to Berklee, and coaching students who wish to try singing in Yiddish. A lot of the students come to it because they're into John Zorn and other artists who fuse klezmer with avant-garde and free jazz and funk and stuff that like that. The kind of students who take either of these classes are generally seeking something off the beaten track, looking for a different kind of experience."

Career Highlights


  • B.A., Harvard College
  • M.M., New England Conservatory of Music
  • M.F.A., Tisch School of the Arts
  • Composer/lyricist, The Man in My Head, a one-man musical starring Darius de Haas; New York Musical Theatre Festival 2006
  • Composer, Friendship of the Sea and The Navigator, both musicals commissioned by North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, Massachusetts
  • Founding director, New Opera and Musical Theater Initiative (NOMTI)
  • Producer, annual Birth of a Musical Festival, Boston, 1999–2004
  • Semifinalist, Massachusetts Cultural Council artist grant in composition
  • Faculty advisor, Berklee Musical Theatre Club
  • Steering Committee, Berklee Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Allies