How Berklee & Boston Music Schools Merged to Create A Conservatory 'on Steroids'

Dave Green
Berklee College of Music

Two venerated Boston music schools -- which happen to be next door neighbors -- join forces to merge the old with the new

For the past couple of centuries, the concept of a music conservatory has not changed drastically: Young virtuosos feverishly studying the nuances of Beethoven and chromatic techniques in the cramped practice rooms of Dickensian buildings. But the 800 students at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee -- the newly minted merger between two venerated institutions, the Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory -- found a very different curriculum when classes began Sept. 6.

"The time when a student could reproduce the music of Northern European composers of the last 200 years and get a job is over," says Conservatory president Richard Ortner. "The digital revolution has utterly changed how the arts are being created, distributed and consumed. We're still going to operate like the Boston Conservancy," he adds, "but on steroids."

For Ortner and the Conservatory, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in May 2017, the solution was literally next door at the 71-year-old Berklee School of Music, which has spawned such alumni as John Mayer, Esperanza Spalding, Charlie Puth, Hamilton musical director Alex Lacamoire and many jazz musicians.

"We each have matching pieces that the other institution didn't have and could see benefits in having," says Berklee president Roger Brown. "And that's going to create many more opportunities."

To that end, Conservatory students can tap into Berklee for classes encompassing technology, music business, sound design, production, contemporary music, film scoring and online education plus the opportunity to work in one of the school's 27 recording studios. In turn, Berklee students can take advantage of the Conservatory's offerings in classical music, opera, dance, musical theater and Italian. The merger's brand-new offerings include the Conservatory's appointment of Duane Lee Holland Jr. as its first-ever full-time faculty member in hip-hop dance. Conservatory students also will have access to Berklee classes in technology, entrepreneurship, music supervision and composition for film, video games and more.

The schools' combined enrollment is 5,300; annual tuition at each institution is around $40,000 per year. Ortner and Brown stress that the merger was done purely for synergy reasons, not because of declining enrollment or finances. "I can imagine a new musical theater production written and workshopped here, with the lead actors from here," enthuses Brown. "That's the big idea."

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 24 issue of Billboard.