Open Menu Close Menu

Berklee College of Music: Enabling Global Music Collaboration

oston's Berklee College of Music is the world's largest independent music college, focusing on contemporary music and music education and serving more than 3,400 undergraduate students. Berklee alumni include producer/arranger Quincy Jones, rock singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge, film composer Alan Silvestri, guitarist and Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks, and jazz saxophonist/composer Branford Marsalis.

Berklee's facilities include 10 professionally equipped recording studios, more than 100 MIDI-equipped workstations, and hundreds of synthesizers in its many lab facilities. In addition, the Film Scoring Department houses six fully equipped film/video scoring and editing labs.

Technology is a catalyst for Berklee, driving classroom innovation and providing the most comprehensive music education possible. The school’s mission also includes drawing on music professionals around the world to give students a comprehensive, world-class education. In one of its latest technology innovations, the college is using video conferencing to link Berklee students with musicians and other students throughout the United States and in several other countries.

Two years ago, the college adopted video conferencing technology. The catalyst was a meeting of the Berklee International Network. Members include schools in Greece, Germany, Finland, Spain, Israel, Paris, Japan, Malaysia, and South Korea. The network enables students to enjoy almost unlimited educational sessions, special events, and music performances.

For example, students can consult with music historians, collaborate with directors and composers, participate in remote auditions, and even provide feedback on the newest symphony from as far away as Greece. The question was how more Berklee participants could attend a conference being held in Greece. Video conferencing proved to be the answer.

Since then, the college has successfully applied the technology at the classroom level. 'Video conferencing is used often for a number of very successful demonstration classes, such as percussion classes and a United States-to-Greece music improvisation class,' says David Lustig, Berklee's assistant vice president for information technology.

Lustig adds, 'Music is at heart a collaborative art form. The technology we use should follow that mold.' Berklee has offered the Greek students six sessions of improvisation class. In return, Berklee students will be able to participate in a series of polyrhythm courses broadcast from the Greek school. Berklee also has a partnership with Dolby Laboratories Inc. in Burbank, California, that enables the school to use video conferencing technology to invite guest speakers from the Los Angeles music community to participate in Berklee classes. Its most recent guest lecture was by percussionist and Berklee honorary doctorate recipient Peter Erskine.

Using video conferencing technology to teach music requires high-quality audio and video in order to display the subtleties of tone and highlight nuances of expression without distracting delays or jitters. 'This was one of the most important considerations in our search for a video conferencing solution,' Lustig says. 'There were rigorous expectations for the technology; not only did it have to help support this relationship, but it had to do so invisibly and without requiring any IT intervention.'

The school chose to deploy Polycom Inc.'s ViewStation 512. The system met the school's audio and video quality requirements and offered the flexibility it needed. The school often attaches its own sound speakers and microphones to the equipment to achieve the best possible result. Depending on the situation, the transmitting classroom may also use a document camera that can switch from displaying a document to displaying a roomful of people, as well as using additional cameras and sound equipment.

One drawback to video conferencing is the quarter-second delay in transmission from site to site, which can make musical collaboration challenging. However, Lustig says they simply use the technology's strengths and don't try to apply it where it can't succeed.

'We don't use video conferencing for really close improvisational collaboration,' he says. 'We use it for a really loose, free improvisation or for master classes.'

He adds, 'Moving forward, video conferencing technology will, without question, play a significant role in our commitment to expanding learning opportunities within Berklee and throughout the world.'

For more information, contact David Lustig, Berklee College of Music, at (617) 747-2027.

comments powered by Disqus