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Harvard, Berklee team up for a master’s

Bruce Martin/Photographer

Some college students spend hours each day in a recording studio, practicing scales or composing music. Some bury themselves in a library, writing papers or studying for weekly exams.

Others do both.

Now, thanks to a new joint master’s degree program between the Berklee College of Music and Harvard that’s being unveiled Tuesday, students can split their time as academics and musicians.

Starting in 2017, a handful of undergraduates independently admitted to both institutions will spend four years studying at Harvard College and a fifth enrolled fully at Berklee, with additional lessons and courses from the music school offered throughout. Students will also be expected to participate in ensembles at either, or both, schools.

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“I suspect it will be students who are very serious about jazz,” said Roger Brown, Berklee’s president. “It might be indie-rock, singer-songwriter musicians. . . . It might be people interested in sound production, sound design, film scoring.”

The program is modeled after a collaboration between Harvard and the New England Conservatory, billed as a program for “musical academics or academic musicians.” Students fulfill their Harvard requirements during their first four years and begin to fulfill NEC master’s requirements in their fourth year, completing their fifth year only at NEC.

Unlike NEC, a classical music institute, Berklee focuses on jazz and contemporary music. It offers master’s degrees in the fields of scoring for film, television, and video games; music production and technology; music business; music therapy; and contemporary performance — areas that Harvard’s music department, focused on theory, largely does not cover.

“Berklee is a place that trains musicians in the practical world and so it’s all about being a 21st century musician, and Harvard is obviously creating musicians from a liberal arts perspective,” said Suzannah Clark, chairwoman of Harvard’s music department.

The lessons and courses from Berklee will cost approximately $8,000 a year, with financial aid available, Brown said. Students will in addition pay Harvard tuition, and, like the university’s other students, will receive aid on a need basis.

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The program will also be small, maybe five to 10 students a year, said Carol Oja, Harvard’s former music chairwoman.

Brown said conversations about a joint degree program are a decade old. But they didn’t really take off until a few years ago, he said, when Joshua Redman, a saxophonist and former Harvard student, returned to the Cambridge campus as a visiting artist and talked about how much time he had spent at Berklee during his undergraduate years.

“A light bulb sort of went off,” Brown said. “People thought, ‘this probably is a good idea.’ ”

Brown said he knows many students already at Berklee could have been admitted to Harvard, but chose the downtown music school because they wanted to pursue careers in the field. Now, they don’t have to choose.

While preparing for their full year studying for the master’s degree at Berklee, students may take courses in the fall, spring, and summer semesters, depending on what particular area of study interests them.

Camille Colatosti, Berklee’s dean of graduate studies, speculated that some particularly ambitious students could end up getting an additional bachelor’s degree from Berklee while in the program. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we find someone like that,” she said.


Meg Bernhard can be reached at meg.bernhard@globe.com.