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A New Face - Make Mine an OliRockberger Please- with Zero Cheese!

By Published: October 3, 2003

My time at Berklee was absolutely my most intense growth period as a musician- the classes I took, the people I played with, the shows I played, the visiting artists I played with. it all took me so much further forward as a young musician and artist.

AAJ: What have been some of the most important concepts you?ve taken away from the academic part of your experience?

OR: That compositional theory and instrumental technique is the toolbox from which you can construct and that what you can construct depends a great deal on the tools in your box! Berklee was the perfect place for me to sharpen my existing tools and to acquire some new ones. The next challenge beyond the acquisition of these kinds of skills is learning how to apply that knowledge in a creative and personal way to create original art. For me this came after graduating, as I think it does for many people. The Berklee environment forces you to say, "Okay, we are all here learning the same information, but how do I use it in a way which makes me me, and not you?" It also forced me to learn how to be my own teacher and musical master- this, in my opinion, is essential in continuing to develop as an artist. These are just some of the things I learned at Berklee.

AAJ: You seem comfortable with the intricacies of music theory and its application to improvisation and composition. How much of that element do you bring into the compositional process? It probably varies based on the composition and the goals of the composition, right?

OR: My harmonic techniques and approaches are always there when I write. However, these days, harmony has become more and more instinctive. I think this is only because I have been through the stage of writing with great conscious awareness of harmonic motion and other theoretical considerations. Once I exhausted thinking things through in a mathematical way as I played them, my brain began to make the connections and hear those relationships in an automatic and instinctive way. The brain must be trained to do this and I think I managed to train my brain in this way without realizing that I was doing it at the time. When I've exhausted my current techniques and try to amass new information, as I will inevitably need to, then I'll probably go through the same process once again of intellectualizing in the hope that I'll soon reach a greater instinctive and natural understanding of the same concepts.

Most composers and songwriters say that the natural and instinctive process previously described, once attained through hard work, is continually interrupted in moments where the tool box needs to be opened to solve a specific problem such as, "How do I modulate here?" or "How do I get back to the original key?" or "What are the same chords in this new key?" or "How should I re-harmonize this section?" or "Why does the movement between these two sections feel jerky and how I do I smooth it over?" etc.

Understanding that composition requires the use of different parts of the brain- the left and the right, the creative and the analytical, and learning to balance the two, has been very important to me in my development as a writer.

AAJ: Who are some of the great young fellow students and players you've met and gigged with at Berklee?

OR: There have been so many. Tony Grey (who plays bass in my band) is a phenomenal bassist, a musical and creative spirit, who is at once exciting and adventurous, tasteful and hard grooving. His technique is remarkable and playing with him is always experimental, dynamic and interactive. Tony finds and creates his own place in each song, and understands on a deep level when to adapt himself to the song, and when to adapt the song to himself, which is a rare skill.

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