by David Scott, Councilor-at-large
The State of the College and Conservatory address given by Roger Brown in early November is important because it is the clearest articulation of management views of Berklee.
The view from the sixth floor is a view from 30,000 feet. Cutting-edge concerns include items like musicians being replaced by machines and colleges being replaced by YouTube. Cutting-edge solutions include implementing software like Workday and growing our “ark”, Berklee Online.
But what happens at ground level is hard to see from so far up. Fact is, much of what we do at Berklee is NOT cutting-edge; at least not in the way some might think.
There is nothing cutting-edge about spelling an E major chord with a G# instead of an Ab. There is nothing cutting-edge about learning how to read the motivation of a character in fiction. There is nothing cutting edge about rewriting lesson plans year after year to help those students who don’t know what middle C is. There is nothing cutting-edge about balancing lyrics and melody to make an audience laugh or cry. There is nothing cutting-edge about mastering an instrument or learning the cultural context of a work of art.
There is nothing cutting-edge about training teachers how to be reporters in cases of sexual misconduct. This requires an investment, not in hiring a new VP, but in paying teachers to get trained. It can’t be “available faculty development for those interested”. It can’t be one hour of online training.
There is nothing cutting-edge about making sure our facilities are accessible to people with disabilities. Or improving our office and classroom space. Or paid training on emergency procedures.
While we appreciate that forward-looking administrators are carefully considering the possibility that Berklee will be replaced by YouTube, has anyone seen a massive influx of students who are OVER-prepared for Berklee? Decades of underfunded music education in the U.S. means that we can be ten times as selective but still admit many students who are not ready for music college. People use YouTube to learn video game hacks, but learning important things (like music) can be Hard, and Not Always Fun. That’s why students need teachers.
The cutting-edge solution is to consider the computer as a principal instrument. If the computer knows all the scales, then our students will be freed from having to learn them, right?
No, the real solution is the same creativity and gumption and problem-solving and openness to new sounds that Berklee teachers have been showing since 1945.
We listen to the music our students love (though we might rather be checking out that recently released Bill Evans lost session from the Black Forest) so we can find new illustrations of age-old melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. We teach our students to fall in love with the process of taking apart a piece of music to see what makes it tick.
When a student’s lights go on and they get it, we feel deep satisfaction. And then we continue with them and say, look, Stevie Wonder did this 40 years ago. And Duke Ellington before that. And Brahms and Mozart before that. We show them their place in a long and glorious tradition of music that continues now and will continue into the future as long as they live, and as long as their musical children live beyond them.
So if by cutting-edge you mean relentlessly finding new ways of teaching underlying principles that are old as time, then maybe the Berklee faculty IS cutting-edge after all.
P.S. Another part of the message was that the college needs a new intellectual property policy to “encourage more innovation” and referred to the millions that M.I.T. makes from licensing discoveries made using university resources. Keep an eye on this one…