How many cities can boast of being home to one world renowned music university or conservatory? Well, Boston has three! The Hub is home to Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, and The Boston Conservatory at Berklee. Each is outstanding in its own right and while there is some overlap in specialties, they each have found their niche at which they excel.
While the Boston Conservatory at Berklee may not be quite as famous today as the other two institutions, open the Playbill of just about any Broadway or national touring musical and there is a very good chance you will find an alum of The Boston Conservatory at Berklee in the cast. Absorbed in 2016 into its neighbor, the larger and more famous, Berklee College of Music, “Boco” as it is fondly known, boasts a pedigree of which it can be very proud.
Boco was founded in 1867 (the same year as the nearby New England Conservatory) by Julius Eichberg and for over 150 years has educated some of the country’s finest musicians, dancers and actors. “Trained in the European conservatory tradition, Eichberg believed that superior music education is achieved by building strong connections with students, and that all students—regardless of gender or race—should have the opportunity to excel.”1 From its founding, Boco was notable for its admission of woman and African Americans; people who at the time would not ordinarily have been able to pursue a classical music profession.
After decades of success, the school began to falter, but in the 1920’s Agide Jacchia, the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, revitalized the school, expanding program offerings to include the introduction of a department of grand opera, as well as bringing aboard BSO members as faculty. In the 1940’s, the study of music theatre and dance were introduced. “Today, Boston Conservatory at Berklee offers fully accredited programs in dance, music, and theater, with access to the resources and programs of the greater Berklee institution.”2
Katherine McPhee, an American Idol finalist and bonafide Hollywood and Broadway star spent three semesters at Boco. While starring in the NBC musical series, Smash, McPhee remarked, “I don’t think I ever could’ve predicted something so wonderful and amazing,’’ says McPhee of her current role, which she says is informed by her time at the Conservatory. “I really learned a lot about the musical theater world and the craziness that goes on. There will be a lot of jokes that will go past people’s heads, but for those that are tapped into the theater, there will be a lot of fun things for them to tap into, the inside stuff.’’ (Boston Globe 2/3/2012). McPhee later went on the star in the Broadway musical Waitress, where she was joined by her former Boco roommate Matt DeAngelis.
Just a few of the many other notable Boco alums who have found success on Broadway include:
Constantine Maroulis, he of the epic locks, graduated from Boston Conservatory with a BFA in musical theater. He was a contestant on Season 4 of American Idol (someone by the name of Carrie Underwood won that year) and was a 2009 Tony Nominee for Leading Actor in a Musical for Rock of Ages. He occasionally finds his way back to the area, having starred in the 2017 production of Evita at the North Shore Music Theatre. Of his days as a student in Boston, Maroulis remarked, “I think it’s safe to say that Boston is a mecca for the arts and an incredible place for young artists to thrive and compete,” Maroulis said. “I like competition, so I wanted to train with people better than me. And I think that’s what I got to do in my time in Boston.” (Dig Boston 10/3/2017)
Actress Chloe Webb, who rose to fame with her spot-on, nails-on-the chalkboard portrayal of Sid Vicious’ ill-fated girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, in the 1986 film Sid & Nancy attended Boco in the late 1970’s.
Gerard Alessandrini, award winning creator and lyricist of the long-running Forbidden Broadway and the hit spoof Spamilton, graduated from Boco in 1976.
David Benoit (Les Miserables and Avenue Q),
Hayley Podschun (Hairspray and Anything Goes)
Alysha Umphress (American Idiot and Bring It on, The Musical)
Boco alums have made a name for themselves beyond “The Great White Way,” as well. Award winning classical guitarist, Lily Ashfar earned her BFA in Music from the Conservatory. Brazilian jazz guitarist Gustavo Assis-Brasil was a student around the turn of the Millennium and Rennaissance man Geoff Sewell graduated from Boco in 1997. Going further back, the late bassist, Slam Stewart, who played with Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Charley Parker, Fats Waller, Art Tatum and many other jazz legends, attended in the 1930’s. Multi-instrumentalist, jazz musician Sam Rivers, was a student in the late 1940’s.
As the popularity of acapella groups and music theatre majors has blossomed, thanks to the popularity of Glee, High School Musical, Pitch Perfect and other Hollywood offerings, rest assured that Boco will continue to turn out top notch talent for years to come.
1: Boston Conservatory website
2: Boston Conservatory website
(by Lincoln Purdy)