Berklee college

December 29, 2019, 8:13 PM · Hi there!

I literally know nothing about this music college and the success that it has had with its classical major students. I know that they focus more on jazz, and other genres of music but how bout classical? Has there been successful students from this college? Though I'm guessing it wouldn't be the first school of choice for many top students majoring in classical.

Replies (13)

December 29, 2019, 8:56 PM · It has also recently merged with the Boston Conservatory, so make sure your research counts that group of students and faculty.
December 29, 2019, 9:27 PM · Did Berklee even have any students focusing on classical music prior to the merger? I was under the impression that it didn't.
December 29, 2019, 9:29 PM · It has always been a zoo. An interesting zoo, with a lot of talent running around, but it's still a zoo. For a classical musician, I think it wouldn't be a great choice, but if you are exploding with talent and ambition, willing to go into a 110% commitment to success with a creative voice... yeah, it could work. There are students there who will make a name for themselves, but there's a lot of madness and burnout. I would recommend going to a school with a broader education, though, and perhaps a less crazy environment.
December 30, 2019, 5:57 AM · I know a brass prodigy there who is a saxophonist who wants to do rock. However he picked up the trombone and Tuba for fun and it took him a few months to be on the bso sub list so there are some very talented people there but it’s wildly expensive and the classical training would not be that great in my opinion.
Edited: December 30, 2019, 7:39 AM · I have never heard of a classical music going to Berklee for classical training. I had a high school classmate who went there. He was a terrific classical trumpeter, but he went there because jazz was his main interest and became a prominent bebop trumpeter. He runs the jazz performance program at University of Virginia.
December 30, 2019, 11:17 AM · I know (well, from a long time ago) the person who is now head of strings there and I highly respect him as an educator, player, and innovator. I think if you are looking for a place where you learn lots of styles and are well prepared for the music industry (esp. non-classical) it is a great place to go. But as for straightforward classical -- not a good choice. They have a summer program where you can try it out. That might be a good option to see if it is what you are looking for.
December 31, 2019, 3:57 PM · It's the place to go if jazz and Progressive Rock are your thing. Here's a link to their strings programs and professors https://bostonconservatory.berklee.edu/strings
January 1, 2020, 5:45 AM · Berklee used to be a place where students went to meet other like-minded musicians and get gigs, not necessarily to graduate, since the jazz/pop/rock world of performers doesn't give a hoot about college degrees -- it only cares that you can play your part well. In more recent years the percentage of freshmen who actually graduate has increased, and the merger with the Boston Conservatory has helped in that process. The Boston Conservatory has an excellent string program, and since the two schools are linked now, it's a great way for people with only a classical background to get exposed to the jazz/pop/rock world. I have a young cellist friend who attended Boston Conservatory for her undergraduate degree in cello performance as well as composition and she really blossomed there. Another young friend (former student of mine) got a masters degree in bassoon performance there and I heard several of his concerts/recitals there, all of which included excellent string players.

You would do well also to investigate the Hartt School of Music (part of the University of Hartford) in Connecticut -- My son was a graduate student on trumpet performance there (he got a masters degree and a graduate professional diploma) and we heard some excellent string playing when we attended concerts there, so their string faculty is excellent.

January 1, 2020, 6:33 AM · I'll be taking up Cello at the Cape Cod Conservatory this spring, looking forward to it!
Edited: January 1, 2020, 2:20 PM · Even though Berklee College may yet be an unconventional place (despite being a part of the Boston Conservatory), my guess is that you would want to go about this in much the same way as any student approaching conservatory admission. So, if your goal is to study jazz violin with Jason Anick (undeniably a worthy ambition), then you need to know if that's going to happen before you get there. Also, a lot of students take a gap year (or two!) so that they will have preparation more comparable to what they think their professors will expect, or to prepare more competitive auditions. If so, then you would want to spend some of that time learning the jazz genre specifically, and I recommend finding an expert (not necessarily a violinist) who can teach you something about jazz harmony and improvisation. There are also summer camps for jazz (Christian Howes, Jamey Aebersold, etc.). Yeah they cost money.

I urge you also to think about an academic Plan B. I play jazz piano, a couple of gigs a month. I play okay, and I'm improving, but I'll never be close to what I would consider a pro level. I enjoy listening to a curated piano trios channel on jazzradio.com. The number of players out there -- with unbelievable levels of skill and creativity -- is very high. Seems like every day one hears a hot new prospect. It's hard to imagine how they're all feeding themselves. And if I've learned anything (as an amateur musician in my 50s), it's that everything is just that much harder on the violin.

If jazz is your thing, then one more tidbit of advice that my teacher gave me at your age (but I did not follow): Start transcribing solos -- now, like, one per week then two and three per week, etc. Can be trumpet, sax, piano (lead line only to start with), or anything. Listen to soloists on all instruments and ensembles including big band. You've got catching up to do.

January 2, 2020, 6:04 AM · To Paul's excellent advice I would add that you should listen to the great jazz vocalists: Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Betty Carter, Ray Charles, Nina Simone and many many others. Then play the same songs on your violin (the Jamey Aebersold play-alongs are fantastic!) and work to capture their phrasing. Playing a lot of fast notes in solos is very nice, but so is simpler, well-phrased playing, and an ideal jazz performer knows how to combine both at the right time for a truly individual sound such as Stan Getz or Stephane Grapelli get.
January 2, 2020, 7:15 AM · I attended Berklee for one year eons ago. Somethings may have changed, but I imagine much has remained the same.

It's more of a vocational school for gigging musicians than a college per se. There are no academic classes save for the minimum to get by for accreditation (i.e. Freshman English). If you are the slightest bit intellectually curious, or simply want to learn a second skill to fall back on, then this is not the school for you.

Being a vocational school, the most important thing one can do there is to make contacts. I was entering as an 18 year old trombonist who had gigged with some guys who had been there a few years. When someone needed a trombone, they recommended me. I got to know more people through these gigs, and quickly rose up high in the pecking order. There are no classes offered in self-promotion, but you need to learn this to get by in this school.

Some of the things they offer are unique and quite useful. For example. ear-training at Berklee is far more advanced than at most music schools. Traditionally, schools teach music dictation with four-part chorales - if you listen to the melody and bass you can figure out the rest. But at Berklee, the dictation has 4 and 5 note jazz chords that don't follow traditional part-writing rules. As a composition major, this served me quite well.

Another benefit (although it may be less applicable for violin) were the 'project' bands. When I attended, composition and arranging classes had to have their assignments recorded when they were turned in. The 'project' bands were jazz ensembles (small combos or big bands) where students signed up for 10 minute windows to record a piece. Since I had connections, I played in 3 or 4 of these. There is absolutely nothing better for your sight reading than sitting in a room for an hour, seeing a part scribbled out by hand (this was in the days before notation software), get one read through before the recording, and doing 6 of these in an hour.

Most of what I got out of Berklee was experiential, though. The skills I developed and things I learned were a result of the groups I performed in rather than anything in the classroom. My trombone teacher was not that great and all of my classes were filling workbooks. There were no classical ensembles there - at was all jazz/rock/pop. I met some good people and got some gigs out of it, but one year was enough and I transferred elsewhere. It simply wasn't what I was looking for.

Edited: January 2, 2020, 10:32 AM · Wow thanks for that injection of first-hand insight, Madeye. There is a lot of inertia in higher education and it would not surprise me if your observations from decades ago are still quite appplicable today.

Following up on David's post, I'll repeat advice that was given to me first-hand by the late "dean" of jazz piano, Marian McPartland, who graciously and generously sat with me for a short time on a chilly morning to give me some advice about my playing and about my trajectory as a jazz pianist generally (ca. 1985). She said that one should always learn the lyrics to the standards, and that she could tell when listening to a pianist who hasn't. Just to hear her voice sitting right next to me was a tremendous, once-in-a-lifetime thrill.

As far as jamming practice, Aebersold playalongs are fine but they have limitations. You cannot change the number of choruses, the key of the piece, or the tempo. However, the phone app "iRealPro" allows you to do all of that. So yeah, you can practice your improv, scale patterns, and what-not over 12-bar blues changes or rhythm changes in all 12 keys, and the library of tunes is maybe 2000 by now. However for IP reasons, iRealPro does NOT have the melody of the tune. This you can easily learn by ear (best), or you can go to Amazon.com and buy the first two volumes of "The Real Book" in concert key, and while you are at it, be sure to get the Christmas Real Book, which will help you greatly on holiday gigs. Try to learn 2-3 tunes per week.

David's list of vocalists is fine but could use a little updating, maybe check out the likes of Jane Monheit, Tierney Sutton, Diana Krall, Melody Gardot, etc.


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