John McGann – mandolin at Berklee

We’ve written often about Berklee College Of Music in Boston and their recent embrace of the banjo and mandolin as principal instruments. Like most top music schools, Berklee requires all degree students to complete a minimum of two years of intense study (technical proficiency) on an instrument or voice, even if pursuing a program other than performance.

To tutor the mandolinists and help lead ensembles Berklee hired noted mandolinist and instructor John McGann as an associate professor in the Strings department. John put together a concert at the college on February 5 to showcase the mandolin, bringing together faculty, staff and students. All Berklee concerts are recorded on video and 8 clips from the show are available on YouTube.

I’ll let John describe the music – and the musicians – featured at the concert.

Annika L?ºckenbergfeld is a professional classical mandolinist who came to Berklee to study improvisation. I wrote a duo piece called Minatures which we play together.

On the long Blue Grass medley we play at the end, I feature Berklee students Eric Robertson and Jacob Jolliff. Eric is from North Carolina, and is ridiculously great for having only played for 4 years. He has a great combination of rootsy, bluesy expressiveness and an adventurous streak. Jake is from Oregon and sounds like he started playing in utero-just a natural talent who works his behind off at sounding effortless. He weaves beautiful, flowing lines.

The medley also features fiddler Nate Leath, a Berklee graduate who now plays with Old Scool Freight Train. Flynn Cohen plays great bluegrass (as well as other styles) of guitar, and my fellow professor Dave Hollender is on bass.

The complete medley is Midnight Sun (one of my tunes), Mississippi Waltz (Monroe), Huggin’ The Rail (original), Roanoke/Wheel Hoss/Big Mon – the last three being Bill Monroe tunes. I arranged all the harmony parts, etc.

The concert also featured traditional Irish music (and some originals in that style) with fiddler Oisin McAuley from the group Danu and Jim Kelly on guitar, as well as a Brazilian Choro piece (played as a trio with Annika and Casey Scheurell on percussion), two jazz originals (with Billy Novick, clarinet; Jim Kelly, guitar; Dave Hollender and Casey Scheurell) and a medley of old time fiddle tunes (Elsic’s Farewell/Boys The Buzzards are Flying/Blackberry Blossom in 4 and 7) as a duo with Casey Scheurell on percussion.

McGann also indicates that the Acoustic String Principal is doing well after only two years.

“We now have 16 mandolin principals at Berklee, as well as many fiddlers and guitarists who double on mandolin. We have also added several banjo principals in the past semesters, so the Acoustic String Program continues to grow at Berklee with great talent from around the world.”

You can see all of the concert videos on YouTube.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.