We have posted several times recently about Berklee College Of Music’s acceptance of traditional stringed instruments like banjo and mandolin as principal instruments of study at the school. One of the architects of this change was August Watters, Associate Professor at Berklee, and an accomplished mandolinist outside of his work teaching Ear Training at Berklee. Along with String Department Chair Matt Glaser and Ensemble Professor David Hollender, Watters worked for several years to help convince the administration of the need to embrace these instruments to keep faith with Berklee’s commitment to offer serious college training in all styles of commercial music.
On Wednesday, February 1, August will perform in a faculty recital at Berklee, featuring a mix of bluegrass, swing, jazz, Celtic, klezmer and Brazilian Choro music. Joining him for this concert will be a number of Berklee faculty members and noted northeastern mandolinists in a program largely involving music written and/or arranged by Watters. He tells us that he means for the recital to be at times serious and respectful, and at other times irreverent, playful and fun.
“The concert reflects not only diverse mandolin styles, but also different ways of approaching a mandolin ensemble — from a lead sheet approach where everyone contributes to the arrangement, and nothing is written down, to a completely written-out approach. Most tunes are hybrids of the two extremes: written arrangements with room for improvisation in the solo sections as well as the accompaniments, or lead sheets with most parts improvised, and only a few ensemble figures notated.”
The show will begin with three numbers featuring a bluegrass ensemble composed of Berklee faculty members David Hollender on banjo, John McGann on octave mandolin, Mitch Nelin on bass and August Watters on mandolin.
“All of the players in my bluegrass quartet, which is opening the recital, are deeply rooted in traditional bluegrass. Like all bluegrass musicians, we’ve been listening to the real thing for most of our lives, and regularly play straight-ahead bluegrass gigs and jams. I myself grew up down the road from Bean Blossom, where Bill Monroe made a big impression on me at an impressionable age.”
“We also believe in the bluegrass process: listen deeply and widely to the music of our world, and then combine those ideas into a personal approach. I believe that if I follow Bill Monroe’s process, I’ll likely end up in a different place. So the concert is less about presenting traditional bluegrass sounds than it is about giving a taste of it to young ears, while also contextualizing it with other sounds. I hope the end result will point the way toward new possibilities for young musicians.”
The recital will be held in the David Friend Recital Hall (Genko Uchida Building) at 921 Boylston Street in Boston. It begins at 7:30 p.m., February 1, 2006, is open to the public and there is no admission charge.
In addition to his teaching duties at Berklee, August is deeply involved in bluegrass music education in the Boston area. He heads up youth jam sessions through the Boston Bluegrass Union, where young pickers are taught common jam tunes in a group setting, at no cost to them or their families.
We recorded an interview with August during the 2005 IBMA World Of Bluegrass convention which will be released at a later date on The GrassCast, and we talked about his work at Berklee as well as his efforts spreading bluegrass music to even younger players.