Berklee College of Music is considered one of the premiere training grounds in the country for young musicians. We're talking the Ivy League of music education, with graduates like Quincy Jones, Melissa Ethridge, and Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks, not to mention film composers, studio executives, and music label hotshots.
But this January, they decided to take music to the people. The little people. They announced plans to offer their expertise to students across America.... for free. Since that time, Berklee has joined with community organizations across the United States, and inked a deal with Apple, so that they can offer high-quality contemporary music instruction to underserved youth across the nation. The program is called Berklee PULSE.
Berklee isn't new to underserved youth. They've got a groundbreaking City Music program based in Boston. Now they're planning to put technology to work and bring real-time, web-based instruction to students across America, regardless of their location or their ability to pay. Any student who completes the required coursework will be eligible to audition for scholarships to the school's five-week summer program or a regular undergraduate degree.
More than 200 students will be served when pilot projects begin this Spring at Seattle's Experience Music Project, A Place Called Home and Sound in Los Angeles, eSharp Music in Washington, D.C., and the Mount Airy Cultural Center in Philadelphia. Students don't need to have a trumpet under the bed or a drum set on hand – Berklee will partner with members of NAMM, the International Music Products Association, to provide them with instruments and other musical equipment.
Although the program has a web-based component, it isn't solely web-based. Trained and certified alumni teachers will guide students through the online curriculum, coach them with their instruments and ensemble playing, and act as mentors – all in-person. Webcasting and videoconferencing will allow face-to-face interaction between partner sites, and with faculty and students at Berklee's Boston campus.
The Berklee approach is unusual in that it teaches music theory, ear training, and performance, based on a library of popular R&B, rock, hip-hop, and jazz songs. For PULSE, they're bringing out the big guns. At least six of the library's songs will be recorded by The Movement Orchestra – the touring ensemble for Christina Aguilera, Babyface, Patti LaBelle, and others.
Interested, but not near any of the pilot sites? Good news. Berklee plans to roll its City Music Network into 50 partner sites over the next three to five years, and expand even further after that. More likely than not, it will eventually be in a city near you.