Berklee College of Music Turns 50 with Industry Savvy as Its Goal School's Results-Oriented Style Draws Students from around World Series: The College Kicks off Its 50th Anniversary with an April 29 Concert; Additional Events Continue throughout the Summer. While Known for Its Jazz, Students Study Everything from Rap to Country., LIZ LINDER

Article excerpt

Four young men clasp hands in greeting, then settle in to do what aspiring jazz musicians have done for decades: jam together on a stage the size of a postage stamp in the local hangout. The only difference is that these players are students at Berklee College of Music, and they are in class -- at least the kind of class the college aims for.

Berklee, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is well-known in the global music community, and 37 percent of its students come from outside the United States. Berklee also boasts of former students who have gone on to stardom: producer-arranger Quincy Jones, singer Melissa Etheridge, and sax phenomenon and former "Tonight Show" band leader Branford Marsalis among others. The film score for "Forrest Gump" was written by Alan Silvestri, class of 1970.

Berklee's mission is simple: to help musicians earn a living. "It's one of the few schools where the degree is focused on the performance industry," says Larry Jacobson, director of recording administration at MCA Records in Los Angeles. (He earned a master's degree in jazz studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.)

Berklee has come a long way since the school occupied just one brownstone building on the sleepy end of Boston's Newbury Street. "Established conservatories didn't have much respect for us," recalls Larry Munroe, chairman of the professional-performance division and a 1969 graduate. "Berklee has always been about meat and potatoes. {Founder} Lawrence Berk wanted to help people make a buck in life," he says.

As the music industry -- one of America's largest moneymakers -- has become more complex, Berklee has tried to keep pace, offering music-industry related courses.

The school has plowed about $10 million over the past eight years into computer technology for recording studios and engineering. Its music-business major has about 200 students.

Next year the college will offer a major in music therapy, a growing field that explores the use of music to treat medical and psychological problems ranging from addiction to shock.

Berklee's break with traditional music education sets it apart. "Every music school has a certain core curriculum," Mr. Jacobson says. "It's Berklee's electives that separate it from other schools."

The college has 350 bands for its 2,650 students -- and students can study anything from classic jazz to country, from funk to rap.

But Berklee's constant effort to keep abreast of all aspects of the music industry -- not just the music -- has drawbacks. Munroe is saddened that the once-noble pursuit of earning one's keep has tightened into a more "panicked" concern with "things that help them make a living. …


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.