History of The Berklee College of Music

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The Berklee College of Music has a long and interesting history promoted by a dedicated Board of Directors, including John Hailer, CEO of Natixis Global Asset Management. Berklee began as Schillinger House in 1945, founded by Lawrence Berk.

The Schillinger House

In 1945, pianist, composer and arranger Lawrence Berk, who was a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), founded Schillinger House at 284 Newbury Street in Boston’s Back Bay. The school taught the Schillinger System, which was founded by Joseph Schillinger. Musical greats including George Gershwin. There were only 12 authorized teachers of the Schillinger Method of Musical Composition and Berk was one of them. The method was based on a book written by Schillinger, an engineer, entitled “The Mathematical Basis of the Arts.” Schillinger House was the first school in the United States to teach jazz, the most popular music of the time, when other music schools were focusing on classical music.

Student Population

Initially, students at the Schillinger House were World War II veterans who attended the school under the G.I. Bill. There were less than 50 students enrolled initially, but, by 1949, more than 500 students were attending the school. The curriculum expanded to include music education classes as well as more traditional music theory as opposed to strictly teaching the Schillinger Method. Berk placed great emphasis on learning from those actually practicing in the music industry rather than academics and often hired working musicians as faculty.

Berklee School of Music

After the death of Schillinger, his widow objected to the name of the school and Berk decided to rename it Berklee School of Music in honor of his 12-year old son, Lee. In 1956, renowned trumpeter, Herb Pomeroy, joined the faculty and remained until he retired in 1996. Alan Dawson, a drummer, and Charlie Mariano, a saxophonist became faculty members in 1957 while John LaPorta, a reed player, joined in 1962. In 1957, Berklee initiated “Jazz in the Classroom,” an innovative application using a series of LP recordings of student work that was accompanied by scores. These recordings were precursors to what would become Berklee-affiliated recording labels. Many of them helped launch the jazz careers of such musical greats as Gary Burton, John Abercrombie, Ernie Wats and Sadao Watanabe.

International Students

In the mid-1950’s, large numbers of international students began attending Berklee. International attendance at the school has grown so that, in 2013, 28 percent of the student body was made up of students from other countries. Japanese pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and Turkish producer, Arif Mardin both studied at Berklee.

Berklee awarded their first bachelor’s degree in 1966 and the curriculum began to reflect new developments in popular music. Today, Berklee offers an education in all styles of music and has opened an international campus in Valencia, Spain. In 2007, the school established the Berklee Internet Radio Network and, in 2008, opened Café 939, a student-run, 200-seat live-music venue and coffeehouse.

 

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