Follow SABIAN Online Community Member Ryan Masecar as he blogs about his first year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
A Brief First Month at Berklee
I moved into my apartment on Westland Ave on May 16, 2010. That is to say, I made the trip up the day before I moved in. My trip up from the small town of Holly Springs, North Carolina to Boston by van was one of the longest unabridged driving trips of my life. It takes anywhere from twelve to fifteen hours to drive from central NC to Boston depending on the traffic and thankfully, we didn’t hit any major backups around Washington, DC or New York City. My parents rented a van for the trip up only (they flew back home) and I spent most of Friday, the 14th packing up my drums, my clothes, and as much gear as I could possibly fit into what I figured would be a Toyota Sienna or a Honda Odyssey. I purchased cases for my Pearl Masters kit which allowed me a state of mind where I would be okay with nesting my drums inside each other – my 10” tom fit inside my 16” floor tom along with several mics and shirts for padding, then the 16” floor tom fit inside my kick drum. I packed a bunch of cables inside my 14” floor tom, and I don’t think I put anything inside my 12” tom.
Early on the morning of the 15th, my parents left the house and got the van from one of the car rentals at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport and brought it back to the house. They got a Chrysler Town and Country, and it’s the biggest minivan I’ve ever seen. The back seats fold into the floor, which opened up a cavern in the back of the van. I was able to fit my kit, my hardware, my most useful snare drums, my clothes, and a couple guitars with plenty of room for me to sit in the back. The trip up was pretty uneventful; it’s more or less a straight shot up to Boston on I-95. We spent the night in a hotel about twenty minutes outside of Boston and in the morning, we packed up, got some coffee, and headed to the city.
Apparently I woke up my roommate when I called him to tell him we had arrived at the building on Westland Ave on the morning of the 16th of May. My dad parked the car along the side of the road and we unloaded my stuff to the curb while we awaited the arrival of my new roommate. It took him a couple minutes to get dressed and make himself presentable and we started hauling my gear up to the fourth floor. Eventually I set up my loft bed (it’s like having just the top bunk), assembled my desk, set up my drums, and put all my stuff in logical places. My parents went out and got a mattress and a shelf, and by the end of the day I had my room completely set up.
When you’ve been living on several acres of well-grown forest for the last nine years of your life, you get used to hearing the crickets and the frogs at night during the spring and summer and the birds chirping in the morning. The city sounds nothing at all like my NC woods. At night the only chirping you hear is that of a police cruiser or an ambulance making its way through the city. I can hear a lot of what goes on around me through the walls and windows of my room, which means I can hear anything making noise outside. I have a personal air conditioner for my room and I leave it on at night to drown out those other noises.
Orientation week was interesting. It started the Tuesday after I arrived in Boston and ended the following Friday. On Tuesday, everyone lines up for check-in: Berklee hands out IDs to the students and gives everyone all necessary materials to get by. Those students living in dorms move in that first day of check-in. I also got my Berklee-spec MacBook Pro on Tuesday (which is awesome) and met a surprising amount of people at one of the computer seminars held later in the day. I met a huge number of people that week. I’ve been meeting a lot of people, but I’ll save that for another paragraph. On the last day of check-in, a concert was held as a sort of celebration featuring Nikki Glaspie on drums and Sam Kininger on sax. The whole band was fantastic and it’s one of the grooviest shows I’ve seen in a long time.
I got my schedule that Friday, which needed to be changed a bit. For instance, I had been placed in an English class – two credits I had already covered in my past year of community college. I got it worked out, however, and I am now taking an Acoustics class. My classes are all pretty good – Everyone takes an Ear Training, Harmony, Arranging (or Writing Skills, in some cases), a Lab on one’s principal instrument, a Liberal Arts, and private instruction. I’m in Ear Training 3, Harmony 2, Arranging 1, a drum lab that I hate but has some good hand exercises, Acoustics as said before, and private instruction with Tony “Thunder” Smith. Harmony is definitely my favorite class – my teacher actually wants us to understand the curriculum and explains it in ways that we understand and with an attitude that makes us want to learn. My instruction with Tony is lackluster; he is teaching me one or two things that do stretch my ability a bit but for which I can find no real use. He also taught me flam fives, which I already knew, and permutations of flam fives, which I’ve already been doing. I feel like private instruction should make me want to practice, so I’ll see where it goes throughout this semester and choose a teacher accordingly.
The people here are awesome. Everyone at Berklee is weird in some sense of the word – I mean, we’re all here for music; nobody here is normal! I really like the different approaches available throughout the student body; it keeps me on my toes and stretches my playing ability more than anything else I’ve been doing. It’s also been testing my learning and part-writing ability – a friend of mine (a guitarist and fellow Dream Theater nut, although I kinda grew out of that phase a year ago) and I have been jamming to a couple riffs he has and some DT songs. I’ve been writing out charts for the songs I need to learn and I ended up writing this one awesome Gavin Harrison-style polyrhythmic groove in 5/8 with a quarter note pulse on the hihat – I’ll probably put a picture of what I ended up writing out. I also ended up getting a call from a friend of mine to learn a couple Motown-type (Wilson Pickett, The Temptations, and Stevie Wonder) songs within the next 24 hours. I wrote out charts and that practice went over very smoothly. My playing that day was a testament to the importance of having a good groove and a solid sense of time as well as being prepared. Because of that day, I now write out charts for anything I’m learning.
In upcoming entries, I will cover topics in further depth such as the food, sights, the people (in more depth), stories, perhaps even the social scene, if you know what I mean. I’ll probably have some better stories by then as well.
– Ryan Masecar
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