Erica Muhl, an accomplished educator, composer and conductor, who executed the vision of Jimmy Iovine and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young for a cutting-edge school at the University of Southern California, has been named the new president of the Berklee College of Music, one of the world’s preeminent institutes of contemporary music and the performing arts and a recognized leader in music business education.
As founding dean and executive director of the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy, Muhl guided the creation of the school, endowed in 2013 by a $70 million gift from Iovine and Dr. Dre, which offers a unique undergraduate degree in arts, technology and the business of innovation. She oversaw expansion of the academy with two graduate degree programs: a master of science in integrated design, business and technology, with state-of-the-art online cross-disciplinary instruction; and a master of science in product innovation that reimagines product design for the 21st century.
In October 2019, she joined Iovine, Dre and USC president Carol Folt to dedicate Iovine and Young Hall, the permanent home for the academy.
“Dre and I had an idea to fuel innovation through a new style of education,” says Iovine. “Through Erica’s leadership, hard work and determination, she has realized our vision, building an amazing school to educate students where they really live, and one that is at the center of creativity, culture, and the global influence of connectivity that is only possible through technology. We know that Erica will do great things at Berklee. We look forward to continuing to work with her on educational experiences that matter, and that change lives.”
Muhl will be the first woman to serve as Berklee’s president, and only the fourth president in the college’s 75-year history. She will begin her term in July 2021, succeeding president Roger H. Brown, who has led Berklee for 17 years.
“Erica has an impressive background as a musician and was one of the prime movers in the creation of the Iovine Young Academy,” says Brown. “I believe it is one of the most innovative programs in all of American higher education, reimagining education at the intersection of music, art, media, and technology.”
“I want to offer my deepest thanks and appreciation to Berklee’s trustees, and to the amazing Roger Brown,” says Muhl. “The institution you have all built has no equal, and I am deeply honored by your faith in my ability to continue to grow its mission, and to provide unprecedented and unrivaled learning and professional experiences across the spectrum of music, the arts, technology, and creative entrepreneurship.”
Marty Mannion, chair of Berklee’s presidential search committee and vice chair of the school’s board of trustees,says: “Erica’s experience as a strong, seasoned leader who has innovated and managed in times of change uniquely places her to lead Berklee into a new era. Her enthusiasm for our mission, along with a skill set that readily embraces the full range of what we do makes her a strong choice to lead Berklee as our next president.”
During a year-long hunt for its new president, the search committee defined the qualifications needed in a candidate: strategic thinking and appreciation for the challenges facing higher education, the ability to lead a complex organization, leadership on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and an appreciation of the life of an artist, according to a statement from the college.
“Erica’s deep experience in cross-disciplinary innovation in higher education—with technology and artistry at the core—coupled with her distinguished music career and lifelong dedication to students, embodies the qualities we sought and aligns perfectly with Berklee’s vision,” says Susan Whitehead, chair of Berklee’s board of trustees and member of the presidential search committee.
In making the announcement, Berklee noted Muhl’s record in the area of diversity and inclusion in education. Across its undergraduate and graduate programs, the Iovine Young Academy’s 2019-2020 class had a gender ratio of 53% female to 47% male, composed of 56% people of color and 24% underrepresented minorities.
Concurrent with leading the academy, Muhl served as dean of the USC Roski School of Art and Design until 2018 and, while there, established the school’s first committee on diversity, equity and inclusion, and increased faculty diversity. That experience makes Muhl “well suited to lead Berklee’s efforts to further strengthen its ongoing commitment to fostering a diverse community of artists and educators,” Berklee stated in its announcement.
Muhl comes to Berklee after a period of growth and innovation for the school, achieved under Brown. The college offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs at its campuses in Boston, New York, Valencia, Spain, and through an award-winning distance learning program, Berklee Online. In 2015, Berklee and the Boston Conservatory agreed to a merger.
Muhl’s relationship with Berklee actually precedes her discussions with the search committee. Some years earlier, she had flown to Valencia to meet with Emilien Moyon, program director, global entertainment and music business, to explore a collaboration between Berklee and the Iovine Young Academy.
At that time, she discovered Berklee as “an institution that was thinking the way I was thinking,” says Muhl. “Yes, we have to educate our students to thrive in the industries of today. But we also have to help them become visionaries of the future. That’s really where I’ve been living for the last ten years and I saw that same glint in the institutional eye at Berklee.”
For Muhl, who also has served as associate dean of the USC Thornton School of Music, where she had been professor of composition with tenure since 1990, the move to Berklee also allows her to “get back into my first love,” she says.
As a composer and conductor, Muhl’s works have been commissioned, performed, and broadcast by leading organizations such as Minnesota Opera, The New World Symphony, Italy’s Orchestra della RAI, National Public Radio, and Radio-Televisione Italiana.
Her works have also been featured at festivals and competitions including the Aspen Festival, the International Festival of New Music in Caracas, and the International Percussion Competition in Luxembourg. Muhl served as assistant conductor for Los Angeles Opera Theater, Seattle Opera, and the Pacific Northwest Wagner Festival, and has regularly conducted her own works.
She has received grants and honors from such organizations as the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Opera America.
Early in her career, Muhl was trained in musical composition by the legendary French teacher Nadia Boulanger. She studied at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Italy, and earned her doctorate from USC’s Thornton School of Music. She studied conducting under Fritz Zweig, renowned principal conductor of the Deutsche Oper Berlin.
“I have always touted what we’ve been doing at the Iovine Young Academy as firmly rooted in the arts and firmly rooted in the kind of creativity that arts education builds in a mind,” she says.
At USC, working with Iovine and Dre “has been one of the greatest pleasures of my entire career,” says Muhl, adding that they both have been “extremely supportive because they know that I’m going to work with them wherever I am.
“They’re very excited,” she says. “We’re very interested in scaling the ideas that we’ve developed at the academy. Jimmy was, like, `Great! Can we do this on the East Coast now?'”