Friday, May 19, 2017
A little more than a month ago, we felt the sting. It had been one year since the death of our great Prince, and the music world was still reeling from the loss. Just yesterday, we found out that Soundgarden and Audioslave lead, Chris Cornell, passed away. Indeed, it seems as though more and more of the greats are leaving us behind for a better place or simply leaving us, whichever you believe. Their absence feels like a gaping hole. The thought is painful that there will never be another new song (other than pre-recorded, unreleased stuff that other musicians will inevitably mess up in some way), there will never be another live performance (other than a hologram… are people still doing the hologram thing?), and we will never have a chance to meet some of our biggest musical and cultural heroes and inspirations.
More than the afar off icons we’ve lost, Berklee has seen an unusual amount of faculty (or previous faculty) pass away this past academic year. A quick search of my email account showed five “In Memoriam” emails, four of which happened this semester alone. I don’t have a friend at Berklee who hasn’t been, in some way, touched by the loss of a member of the Berklee community. In my first semester, my ensemble Professor, the great Armsted Christian, became ill, and eventually passed away over winter break. My experience under his tutelage was brief, but his impact was indelible. He will one of the professors that I remember most when my Berklee career is years behind me.
Though these losses, whether with someone familiar like Professor Christian or seemingly distant with someone like Prince, feel heartbreaking and as though they leave music wilting a bit more on the vine, they also sparked a thought within me. Every great loss is also a great vacancy and every great vacancy awaits the student who relentlessly harnesses their greatness through preparation, precision, and poise.
Have you done that Berklee thing that some (read: all) Berklee students do sometimes? Have you compared yourself to that person in your same instrument lane who is getting all of the gigs, all of the attention, and all of the opportunity and felt some type of way about it? Instead of having their greatness inspire you to harness your own, did you sip the bitter koolaide and hate on them a little bit because you knew your friends wouldn’t call you out on it? The problem with comparison culture is that it stifles greatness. And Berklee is brimming with the next greats, whether they’ll manage to cross the stage or not.
When I came to Berklee, I was overwhelmed with this great feeling of knowing that I would be trained in the same place as some of the musicians I admire the most. I’ll take that DAW for Songwriters class not because I particularly love working in Pro Tools, but because Quincy Jones is one of the greatest producers of all time, was trained at Berklee, and my aspirations are to reach my personal level of greatness that matches or exceeds his magnitude. I’ll learn the traditional songs that I feel as though I’ll never sing again because I’ll remember that Lalah Hathaway went through the same thing, and has now won multiple Grammy awards. And I’ll go to every Niya Norwood performance, not because there’s any indication that I’ll be able to hit the riffs that she does, but because greatness inspires greatness and we are among peers who are harnessing theirs RIGHT NOW.
Are you harnessing yours? It’s not gonna look like Quincy’s or Lalah’s or Niya’s. It’s going to be custom-made for you. It might require long nights in practice rooms. It might require collaborating with that person who you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole in your social life. However long we experience the gift of Berklee, be it one semester or ten, it must be a moment where we extract every piece of information we can and use it to transform ourselves into better musicians, businesspeople, and artists. The best homage we can pay to the musicians and professors we’ve lost is to step into a greatness that may inspire as much fear as it does excitement. It’s just on the other side of that arranging assignment you’re procrastinating on. It’s just beyond that lead sheet you’re afraid to make or that video you’ve been scared to post. It’s waiting for you. Will you meet it halfway?
Because you may not be the next Prince, but I guarantee you that if you do the work, you’ll be the next YOU. And that might be someone greater than you could have ever dreamed.
Dominique Jones, Editor-in-Chief