Berklee College of Music Bridges The Gap to The Front Door of the Blues
We’ve all heard of Berklee. As a matter of fact, it is even mentioned in the recent film “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”, where Nick mentions he is headed to Berklee College of Music in the fall. The truth of the matter is, Berklee College of Music is not only a phenomenal school with a rich tradition and amazing reputation, it is also a school that recognizes the rich history of music. Especially the blues.
Three years ago, the fact that Berklee wanted to give back to the blues was more than evident when they hatched a plan to bridge the gap between their campus in Boston, and the cotton field blues playground of Mississippi. Berklee College of Music, recognized as the world’s largest college of contemporary music, has been in the game for more than 65 years. The curriculum there has roots deeply planted in blues, country, rock, gospel, folk, and other forms of music. However, being in Boston, something had to change – the culture of the music needed to somehow get closer to Berklee. With that, they began a summer scholarship program for students at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, and the Robert Johnson Blues Museum in Crystal Springs. So far, four recipients have made the trip to Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program.
The bridge saw more traffic in recent months when Steven Johnson, vice president of the Johnson Blues Museum, lectured at Berklee on the legacy of his grandfather, Robert. Ben Payton (who has been featured on this site), an acoustic blues player from Jackson, then made his Boston debut at a show devoted to American roots music at the Berklee Performance Center. A mutual educational exchange was born: Berklee students were getting a direct taste of Mississippi legacies and culture, while students from Mississippi experienced Berklee’s world-class professors and curriculum during their summer studies. Sounds like a win-win situation for the blues.
The Berklee Mississippi Music Exchange, as the effort is now known, develops opportunities to exchange music, education and culture between Berklee, the Mississippi Delta and other parts of the state. It is an amazing step not only in the education of the blues and the culture that surrounds it, but it also helps to keep the blues alive and bring the music to future generations. I am all for that.
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Travis Calvin, who was the first Berklee Mississippi Music Exchange recipient in 2008. He’s planning on entering the school full time this fall. Here’s what he had to say.
How long have you been into the blues? Who is your favorite pre-war bluesman?Since I was about 8 or 9. David Honeyboy Edwards.In your experience, how important is the program at Berklee?
This program is awesome and means a great deal to Mississippi. It gives younger musicians who are serious about their talent and craft a chance to learn more about music and their principle instrument.If you had one thing to tell up and coming musicians, what would it be?
Follow your dreams. Put every ounce you [have] into it. Then, put that same passion and heart into your music and you’ll go far.What is your instrument of choice?
guitar.What is one way you hope to give back to the blues?
After I’m done with school, I plan to come back home, MS, and start a formal music school.How did you first get into music?
I grew up in a bad neighborhood. My parents were looking for things to keep me busy and positive. So, they signed me and my brother up for music lessons.Where did you grow up?Clarksdale, MS.How long have you played?11-12 years.What was it like to be awarded the scholarship? What was going through your mind?So many things were running through my mind. I was excited mostly. I was also proud of myself and determined to pursue my music career.Do you look forward to your time at Berklee? What do you look forward to the most?I am too excited about Berklee. The thing I really look forward to doing is developing my skills and definitely networking. I know that this is an once in a lifetime experience.