By Andrew Schroeder
One afternoon in the Berklee Archives, as I combed through innumerable folders containing records of Berklee’s younger days, I happened upon an old check. It was a stub for music lessons. The check was written to Joseph Schillinger and signed by none other than Berklee College of Music’s founder, Lawrence Berk. In 1945, Berk would open Schillinger House, a new school dedicated to teaching the Schillinger System of Musical Composition. In 1954, Berk renamed Schillinger House to Berklee School of Music, after his son, Lee Berk. Here was a transactional snapshot of a relationship that would be integral to the formation of a world-class institution, and I was holding it.
Perhaps that doesn’t give you goosebumps, but to a professed lover of history, it gets the blood flowing. Today, we expect most images and documents to be easily summoned in a few search terms, yet there I sat with an object only a handful had seen before. No amount of googling could return this very item. It occurred to me then that I was a liminal figure, working directly between history and those who would seek it out. That sense of significance gave me pause.
To some, the mental image of an archives suggests a hall lined with dusty shelves holding thick and ancient volumes, but I can assure you otherwise. The contemporary nature of Berklee gives its archives a living feel; and it is indeed growing, constantly, alongside the artists whose stories fill its shelves—students, professors, and celebrities alike. Yes, inside there are pictures of David Bowie handing out diplomas, handwritten letters from Toshiko Akiyoshi, and telegrams from Quincy Jones, but there are also concert programs naming current and former students, articles about faculty (some of whom were my teachers), and somewhere even exists documentation of my own family’s time at Berklee. Someday my name, too, will be housed here.
This past year, renowned sax player David Liebman donated his personal collection to the archives. He and his wife, Caris, invited Berklee archivists to their home in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, to compile rooms’ worth of music-related material to bring to Boston. These materials contained, among other things, hundreds of albums and recordings, mountains of leads and scores, pictures, posters, letters, and even matchbooks from his extensive career. The goal of the Berklee Archives was to organize his donation for research and posterity. My part, officially, was to parse through the collection and sort it based on its context and composition. Unofficially, I would “get to know” Dave through his belongings.
“History is not relegated to climate-controlled storage; it’s found backstage, on the sidewalk, in a practice room, and in your dormitory.”
Dave, now in his 70s and still very much involved in music, was clued-in to the archival process. The Liebmans came to check on the collection one day, and I had the pleasure of meeting them. At one point Dave asked me, “You really went through all that?” and then concluded “You know me better than I know myself.” He was kidding, but he gave me a holistic realization of the Berklee experience: to be on this campus is to participate in history.
This school has always grown its own. Whether you’re citing Esperanza Spalding or an ear training professor, there is a trend of students’ continued involvement at Berklee. My time in the archives has shown me that you can appear on paper as a student, professor, and guest clinician all in one lifetime, and that’s inspiring. History is not relegated to climate-controlled storage and chronological lists; it’s found backstage, on the sidewalk, in a practice room, and in your dormitory. You’re already knee-deep, so keep on participating—someday, someone will pull a folder with your name on it. Maybe they will shiver.
Andrew Schroeder is a fifth semester music business major hailing from Madison, Wisconsin. A drummer and vocalist since childhood, his musical influences range from the funk stylings of Clyde Stubblefield to the surreal melodies of Ruban Nielson. His love of music history is often a guiding factor in discovering new musical interests. Andrew has been working as a student assistant in the Berklee Archives since his first semester.