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Terence Blanchard on teaching the next generation of musicians

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Terence Blanchard on teaching the next generation of musicians
Terence Blanchard (center) at Berklee Week 2015 (Photo: Dave Green)

If you give these kids the tools to handle the stuff where they can look at something else and really appreciate it, but know that what they have is of worth too, then you stand a better chance for them developing and becoming stronger within their own musical personality,” says Terence Blanchard of his students at the Berklee College of Music.

Since the fall of 2015, Blanchard has been a visiting scholar at the nationally renowned college. In a small, jam-packed classroom this past February, nearly 17 musicians were in rehearsals for their Jazz Composition class before the Grammy Award-winning musician and Eric Gould, chair of Berklee’s Jazz Composition Department. Blanchard was back on campus during that final week in February visiting classes, holding rehearsals and giving private lessons.

For many of the students who are not composition majors, this course has been about challenging themselves to think and to write as composers, as well as producing new musical ideas within their own performance skills. “It’s an invaluable experience to have 17 musicians in a room reading your music for free,” said Blanchard of the rehearsal process.

And for Blanchard, teaching this course has been an opportunity to pass on his knowledge and experience. Seeing how the “light goes on” and how the students are becoming more comfortable with the sound and music that they create has been eye-opening for the accomplished composer and bandleader.

After much listening and observing the students, and giving constructive feedback, Blanchard took a break midway through to speak to the Banner about the progress of the students and what he’s learned from them over the course of the year.

How did the students make the transition from performing to creating compositions?

Terence Blanchard: The whole idea is to help them find themselves through composition. The interesting thing about it is that the more they get into it you can see the more aggressive their ideas are and that’s something to really become freer in their thinking. It’s a transition for all of us.

And so is the goal for this course this year to really get them to start thinking in a different way then they normally do as performers?

TB: Definitely. Not only thinking in a different way but having the practical experience of conceiving of an idea, writing it out, and seeing what it actually is versus the initial concept.

Why did you want to teach?

TB: You know really what it is, you look around and you go ‘all of the guys who taught me are not around.’ And you sit there and go, ‘Well, that was a great tradition, a great education that I was a part of. How do we continue this?’ And you look around and there aren’t that many people who are here to do this. I love teaching. The sad part about this, it’s one of those things, you realize, life is short, you realize that these kids are looking for information and you’re the one that has it. And then you go, ‘Oh, I guess it is my turn.’ The other part of it too is when you accept that and you get into this arena of teaching, these people keep you on your toes. And you learn as well, and it keeps me fresh.

You mentioned that these students keep you on your toes. What have you learned from them?

TB: I think the thing that I’ve learned the most is, oddly enough, to not be afraid. These kids have a passion and that’s the reason why they’re all here. They’re all here because there was something that drew them to music, and there’s a need for them to express themselves. Some of these kids, they’re coming here and they’re not jazz musicians. You have classical musicians, R&B musicians, and they’re all fused together. There’s no division of ‘Oh you’re this and you’re that.’ It’s none of that. Everybody’s appreciating each other. I think that’s one of the big lessons I’ve learned from all of them, is to be all encompassing, not only in my appreciation but in my application.