This post is a contribution from David Hollender, Professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Dave has been a member of the ensemble department for several years, and teaching upright bass. He also teaches banjo for students following the Acoustic String Principal, where banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar or fiddle players can pursue a degree at Berklee.
He writes following up on our earlier post on Spring Break in Nashville.
I just returned home from Nashville on a trip that takes place each year during spring break. Berklee Professors Pat Pattison and Stephen Webber led 125 students for six days and over two dozen sessions and events that featured top names representing every aspect of the music business – performers, studio musicians, songwriters, producers, engineers, record company executives, publishers, managers, song pluggers, you name it. By the end of the week those on the trip had received the benefit of decades of experience that will prepare many of them for a move to Nashville after graduation.
Bluegrass is just one part of the trip, however the presentation of an honorary doctorate to Ricky Skaggs Tuesday night was definitely a highlight of the week for everybody. In previous years Ricky has welcomed Berklee students to his recording studio, and now he joins a list of illustrious musicians who have received an honorary degree. The students attended the Tuesday night Grand Ole Opry where they heard, among other, The Whites and Del McCoury Band.
They were given a backstage tour during the show to watch players warming up in their dressing rooms, see television and radio production facillties, and watch part of the Opry from the wings of the stage. The last band of the evening was Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, who played four tunes before the ceremony. After a brief video in which President Roger Brown described the Acoustic String Principal at Berklee, the presentation was made by Lawrence J. Simpson, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, along with Trustee Jeff Davis, Pattison and Webber.
Following the ceremony Ricky, still wearing the robe, grabbed his mandolin and closed out the Opry show by playing Bluegrass Breakdown. After the Opry ended the students were treated to a two hour private session with Ricky and the band in the Opry television studio. There the band played and students got to come to the mic to ask questions of Ricky and the other players. Some of these students are involved in playing bluegrass at Berklee and some who were really hearing the music live for the first time. What was most striking was the pleasure the Ricky and the band took in spending time with everyone and how well they connected with the students. Plans are currently in the works to schedule a visit by the band to Berklee where they will give clinics, work with student players and bands and perform.
Other sessions and excursions of interest to bluegrass enthusiasts took place during the visit too. Everyone headed to the Station Inn on Sunday night for the jam. On Tuesday afternoon Grammy-nominated Berklee graduate Casey Dreissen, Grammy-nominated engineer Jason Lehning (Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Viktor Krauss, Dreissen) and bassist Viktor Krauss spent two hours sharing insights with students in a panel discussion held at Warner Brothers Records. Other sessions were less about bluegrass but still were very interesting, inspiring and educational.
Wednesday afternoon 125 students filled The Tracking Room to watch Vince Gill record a new song. He was backed by Nashville’s first call session players including Eddie Bayers (drums), John Hobbs (keyboard), David Hungate (bass), J.T. Corenflos and Steve Wilson (guitars). Hobbs produced the session and Billy Sherrill engineered. The students filled the studio, listening through headphones while seated right beside the players in the isolation booths, and others in the control room. Vince played through the new tune a couple times for the players, who jotted down a chart in Nashville notation, talked briefly about the arrangement and put down the tracks. Most of the players on this session, plus Paul Franklin (guitar), and Brent Mason (guitar) also did a panel discussion earlier in the week.
Other presenters included Mark Montgomery of Echo Music, marketing whiz and music producer Scott Rouse, country artist Hal Ketchum and Dinse Sith of DS Management (Alison Krauss).