Making Waves: Students Compose and Record First-Ever Sounder for NPR affiliate WCRB 99.5

June 01, 2015

Boston is one of America’s most historic and dynamic cities, with a thriving innovation community and rich cultural roots that make it an ideal learning environment for its thousands of college students. Boston Conservatory at Berklee is taking advantage of its prime location by partnering with neighboring organizations on projects that both expand the conservatory’s impact in the community and enrich students’ educational experience.

The school’s latest partnership with WGBH’s classical radio station, WCRB 99.5, is especially exciting and turned heads over the 2014 winter break when the station debuted a bold new sounder—or audio logo—composed and recorded entirely by conservatory students. The Sounder Project, as it has come to be known, was conceived in January 2014. At the time, WCRB needed a distinguishing station identity, and the Boston Conservatory—known for its flourishing composition and performance programs—had both the talent and the resources for the job.

“There’s no shortage of great musicians and students studying music in Boston,” explains WCRB Station Manager Tony Rudel. “But The Boston Conservatory brings something special to the table—they really understand the educational value of infusing professional experiences into the academic experience.”

Andy Vores, interim dean of music, worked closely with Rudel to make sure the project would be a true collaboration that reached across all departments within the music division. Since a good sounder can be arranged in hundreds of different variations to account for different musical styles and moods, Vores saw a perfect opportunity to involve all of the school’s composition students, as well as performance majors.

The Sounder Project officially kicked off in April 2014 with a competition that encouraged Boston Conservatory composition students to submit original themes for WCRB’s first-­ever station sounder. The contest was a tremendous success, and the panel of judges—which included Vores, Rudel, WGBH General Manager for Radio Phil Redo, WCRB Program Manager Rani Schloss and Composition Faculty Member John Murphree—voted unanimously for a theme by Paul Fake (M.M. ’15, composition).

“The theme was just beautiful,” Rudel says. “It was exactly what I was looking for.”

From there, Vores opened the project up to all students in the composition department, who were tasked with arranging different variations of Fake’s sounder theme, given parameters typical of commissioned work.

“I’m really grateful to have had this opportunity as a student,” Fake says. “Hearing my fellow composers reimagine the piece in hundreds of different ways was just an incredible, eye­-opening experience.”

In total, the students scored more than 300 unique orchestrations over a one­month period, which Vores and Rudel helped narrow down to 114 versions. Since the arrangements showcased all types of instrumentation and musical styles, Vores invited performance majors from all music departments to record the sounder variations at WGBH’s state­-of­-the­-art Fraser Recording Studio in Boston.

“Boston Conservatory executed flawlessly,” Rudel says of the two, full­-day recording sessions, noting the students’ level of discipline and professionalism. “The depth of talent is what impressed me most.”

Besides exposing composition students to commercial songwriting, the Sounder Project gave composers an opportunity to hear their work recorded by Antonio Oliart Ros, a veteran engineer. Nicole DeMaio (M.M. ’16), one of the 36 composition students who participated in the project, remarks: “It was really exciting to be in the sound booth and see the process from the engineer’s perspective. It was so informative to see how certain things needed to be tweaked because of the way the sound was coming through the mics and balancing with everything.”

The Sounder Project is a prime example of how community partnerships engage students and connect them with leading Boston organizations like WCRB. And in many cases, these partnerships continue beyond the initial project, building long and fruitful relationships.

“Our program provides pre­professional training, so we’re always looking to give students as much real world experience as we can,” Vores explains. “One exciting component of our continued relationship with WCRB is that each academic year, our students will enjoy three free recording days with a professional recording engineer in WGBH’s beautiful Fraser Studio.”

The partnership will also enable more project­-based collaborations, some of which are currently being planned and will be announced at a later time.

The Sounder Project has come to represent what the Conservatory is capable of. The creativity of the students and the exciting environment around them present special, professional experiences that give students the opportunity to directly impact their communities.

“There is so much around us and our students are so talented,” Vores says. “When you enable them to perform at their highest level, the results are indisputably extraordinary.”


"Making Waves" first appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of STAGES, the conservatory's bi-annual magazine. It has since been revised to reflect current institutional titles.