Guitarists Make Berklee Into School of Rock
Dreadlocks, Stratocasters, and massive arrays of effects pedals were all on display at the Berklee College of Music’s annual Guitar Night: Rock and Pop concert. Produced by Berklee professors Mike Idhe and Jon Finn, the event boasted 10 guitarists from the college’s guitar program, most of whom were accompanied by backing bands. The featured players, who differed in everything from class year to musical style, performed in a relaxed atmosphere created by Finn and Idhe’s banter and an enthusiastic audience.
“I felt like everyone was really comfortable, and that empowered everyone to play comfortably,” said Michael C. Mattice II, one of the guitarists featured in the showcase.
Before the concert, Finn and Idhe said that they initially received 50 or 60 applications from which they picked the 10 guitarists. Samuel H. Harchik’s group was the first to perform, with an original song entitled “Paradigm Rain.” The song started out with a rush of frenetic shredding, then quickly progressed through a variety of sections, shifting from elaborate hard rock to something that sounded like extraterrestrial surf rock. At times, Harchik would press his back against bassist Shareef Addo’s as the two of them played solos. “Wow. That’s a whole lot of notes,” Finn said jokingly after the song concluded. “Although I’m pretty sure Sam didn’t play F sharp that whole time,” he added.
Harchik, a student at Berklee, was the youngest performer in the concert. Having seen one of his friends play the showcase last year, Harchik said he was proud of appearing at Guitar Night at such an early age. “Getting to do this so quickly was just the most insane thing,” he said. “This is the greatest show I’ve ever been a part of.”
The guitarists’ performances drew on a multitude of different styles. Harchik’s taste in music, he says, tends towards progressive metal bands such as Liquid Tension Experiment and Dream Theater, the latter of which formed at Berklee in the 1980s. Others, however, took inspiration from outside of rock and roll and Western music. “I listen to everything, from...ragas to Brahms. I’ve been listening to a lot of meditative ragas lately,” Mattice said, referring to a form of Indian classical music in which a solo performer improvises around a set of notes “But also metal,” Mattice added.
Mattice, who favored a brassier tone than the other guitarists, excitedly adjusted effects pedals to create thundering bursts of sound during his performance. Occasionally, he would swing his body in time with the rhythm, his dreadlocks twisting around his head. The lone solo performer, Julien Osty, worked in a more experimental mode. By manipulating his volume knob, he was able to create undulating waves of sound occasionally accompanied by gentle feedback. Osty had a playful stage presence; he frequently pretended to talk to his guitar. In the interludes between acts, YouTube videos such as the minor viral hit “Shit Guitarists Say” were projected onto the stage.
Among the audience members were parents, friends of the musicians, and even some potential applicants to Berklee. Current Berklee students at the event spoke favorably of previous showcases. “I’m looking forward to seeing everything,” first semester student Jeremy S. Desous said. “Last time they had everything from jazz to R&B, and I enjoyed it all.” Others were there to support friends, like Berklee freshman Tessa J. Kaslewicz, who came out to see Harchik.
Though entire bands performed for much of the showcase, in the end the audience responded most strongly to the individual guitarists. When the Spliffsters covered Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean,” vocalist Dave Vives came out on stage dressed in a massive fur coat and pranced around constantly. He eventually discarded the coat, danced around without a shirt, and, later, tried to get the audience to sing along. But it was only when guitarist Sebastian Fernandez launched into his solo that the crowd erupted into applause.
Guitar Night was a platform for Berklee guitarists to show off their musical skills and to achieve temporary stardom as rockstars on their own campus.
—Staff writer Petey E. Menz can be reached at email@example.com.