Hey can we congratulate ourselves for completing a week? I think so.
Read an article this morning from the Boston Irish Reporter that Berklee is forging a program to bring more Irish students to campus. Why Ireland? Well, for one, Dean of Admissions Damien Bracken, just happens to be Irish. That helps. What also helps is that under the new leadership of Roger Brown the college is looking for ways to diversify the college, and attracting new types of expertise to campus certainly fits the bill. They've got some amazing string faculty on campus, so why not attract the students?
I blame and thank Bill Whelan for all of this. As the composer of the music that sets Riverdance alight, he brought Irish music to the fore in a profound way, updating the sounds and introducing improvisation and new beats. Irish musicians have always explored and the best of them have always improvised, but until Riverdance, the music was not recognized and appreciated by such a broad, popular audience.
It just so happens, Whelan also has a lot to do with this Berklee thing. He was the one who told Bracken that he felt the Irish were underrepresented at Berklee. Whelan and Bracken did some exploration, and according to Bracken, together with music experts in Belfast, Limerick, Dublin, and Cork, they came up with a concept of teaching improvisation across styles. So, last April, Berklee initiated a Berklee in Dublin program, a series of workshops in April that allowed 50 promising young Irish musicians the chance to work with Berklee faculty. Designed, of course, to attract Ireland's best and brightest to Boston. Several of those young musicians are here in Boston now, studying music at Berklee's amazing Five-Week summer program, an intensive summer study designed to funnel newbies to the freshman gates. How awesome of you, Berklee.
No better man than Whelan to introduce a cross-cultural approach to Irish music--his Riverdance music is full of the Eastern European influence, not to mention the flamenco and American jazz. What's great, though, is that he ensures that musicians who play the Irish component of the show are all top notch in the tradition, but also can do other styles. In addition, as I recall from an interview I did years ago with the director of Riverdance for an article for the Boston Irish Reporter, the musicians who play Riverdance have to learn the tunes traditionally, all by ear and never by paper. Then of course, they have to perform the whole show without sheet music. Yow.
I've written a lot about cross cultural approaches to the music, so I have particular interest in this thing Berklee is doing. It's likely I'll be writing more about it... and of course my book See You at the Hall was an exploration of the way that music reflects cultural adaptation. (http://www.amazon.com/See-You-Hall-Bostons-Golden/dp/1555536409) There are elements of a tradition that must remain to survive, but any tradition that does not adapt will quickly fade.
So this morning, I spent an hour in the basement adapting my own little traditions. I did my long tones and rolls, then played a few tunes on Irish flute... then switched the silver flute and worked on that Brazilian tune again. Tomorrow, I'll be playing bari sax with a swing band on the Eastham Green at the Windmill. Meanwhile, Debra is out there taking Irish flute courses and playing silver flute in her town band. Doing a bit of all these things, bringing them together and making new sounds that are true and unique to the individual musician.
I think Bill Whelan would approve.