Major gift endows Berklee Banjo Masters Residency

The Berklee College of Music in Boston has just announced an exciting new program for banjo players enrolled in their Traditional String principal.

Only in the past few years have banjo and mandolin players been accepted at Berklee, at least officially. Infamous Stringdusters banjoist Chris Pandolfi attended the school, but had to sneak through, taking the various technical proficiencies and lessons required of a guitar players, with the winking approval of the guitar department.

But banjo players are now fully welcome at Berklee, and can raise their heads high on campus. They still have to pass the same requirements as any other students, but can use the banjo (or mandolin) as their principal instrument.

In a major coup for the banjo program, an anonymous donor has made a donation of $90,000 to the school, specifically to fund a Banjo Masters Residency for the next 3 years. This will bring top players in to provide individual private lessons for the Berklee students.

For the 2011 Spring semester, the lessons will be provided by Tony Trischka (March 2-3), Noam Pikelny (March 28-30) and Béla Fleck (April 5-6).

David Hollender, banjo professor at Berklee, tells us that this week’s Trischka visit will offer opportunities for each of the 12 banjo principals to have a chance for one-on-one time with these major banjo dudes.

“Tony will be giving private lessons, ranging for 15-50 minutes in length. Our principals get the first shot at singing up for those, followed by other Berklee students who play banjo. Any remaining slots are then offered again to the banjo principals.

He will also do a number of master classes. There will be one on back up, another on improvisation, and one where everyone can get up and play an original tune for Tony to critique.”

Hollender said that the curricula for the Pikelny and Fleck visits have not yet been finalized, but that each would be given latitude to present topics that are of particular interest to them.

It’s a good week to be a banjo player at Berklee. Congrats to the school for landing this bequest, and such stellar examples of banjo masters for their students.

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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.