The BLOG: Culture

The Berklee/Boston Conservatory merger fueled by desire for synergy in two areas

Want to know what’s behind the merger of perhaps the world’s best known jazz school, Berklee College of Music in Boston, and Boston Conservatory?

Think dance and classical guitar.

The official word is collaboration. Spokespeople and press releases talk of the great opportunity for Boston Conservatory to bring its classical music expertise and its theatre, musical theatre and dance departments together with Berklee’s practical training in the business of music, technology, film scoring, sound design, etc. In addition, conservatory faculty will be able to develop courses for Berklee Online, the largest non-profit online music school in the world.

The merger, which was approved by each institution’s boards of trustees in December, will allow a student at the combined organization to take advantage of the strengths of each school.

While all the reasons stated for the merger – theatre, musical theatre, online courses – helped bring the schools together, two strong drivers in that urge to collaborate were the desire to bring Boston Conservatory’s dance program into Berklee and the desire to create a joint classical guitar department.

Berklee students have been writing, arranging and playing dance music for some time. Why not integrate Boston Conservatory’s dance department with Berklee so that the musicians can write/arrange/play and work directly with the dancers? And the dancers, of course, will be able to perform the works created by the Berklee program.

“Nobody walks around talking about building up the jazz program at Berklee,” said one high-level Berklee source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the organization. “It’s about popular music and dance. Berklee feels we can compose, arrange and perform for the dancers. And the dancers can dance for us.”

“Also, Boston Conservatory wanted a classical guitar program,” the source said. “Berklee doesn’t have a classical guitar department. It does have classical players, but not a conservatory classical program.”

Berklee will be able to provide the infrastructure – a large robust guitar program – and together, Berklee and Boston Conservatory will be able to conduct a wide-ranging search for the right classical guitar professors.

“We can search together and bring someone in who can both work for Berklee and Boston Conservatory to build a conservatory-style guitar program,” the source said.

The thinking is that the merger will officially take place in June, and the name of the combined institution will be the Berklee College of Music, with the Boston Conservatory portion to be known as known as Boston Conservatory at Berklee.

Berklee and Boston Conservatory are located adjacent to each other in Boston, not far from Symphony Hall and the New England Conservatory of Music. Berklee, founded in 1945, has more than 4,000 students. Boston Conservatory, founded in 1867, has more than 700 students. Over the years, Berklee has product such jazz stars as Quincy Jones, Branford Marsalis, and Esperanza Spaulding.

Jay Geils … on trumpet?

Anyone who has been on the Boston music scene for some time, whether listening or playing, knows that one of the Hub’s rock icons is guitarist Jay Geils.

The blues-tinged guitarist, namesake of the J. Geils Band, has always had a thing for jazz, and has made a practice of collaborating with local jazz musicians such as guitarist Gerry Beaudoin to record in that genre. His first solo CD, which included Beaudoin as well as tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton, entitled “Jay Geils Plays Jazz!,” came out a little over 10 years ago.

But Jay Geils on jazz trumpet?

Geils appeared onstage at guitarist John Pizarelli’s December 20 show at the Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley – playing muted jazz trumpet. He performed “Darn That Dream.”

Turns out Geils played trumpet and drums in his high school jazz band and marching band in New Jersey before moving to Boston and taking up guitar. The rest, as they say, is history.

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile can be reached at [email protected].