Gary Slaight Receives Berklee College Honourary Doctorate Degree
The Canadian music industry luminary and philanthropist is honoured by the prestigious Boston music college for the scholarships he awards to help Canadian students attend.
By Bill King
Investing in young talent has long been a priority with the Slaight Family. I have made trips to Boston as part of Slaight Music’s interactions with the Berklee College of Music dating back over a decade. These were vocal workshops, live performances, and, on one occasion, with blues singer Shakura S’Aida and guitarist Neil Chapman.
Through the years, the Slaights have hosted ongoing backyard get togethers with students and parents of future and current Canadian Berklee College attendees. With Gary, it’s always about the showcase. That unique moment a student is accorded the opportunity to perform in front of their peers and young hopefuls and display their talents. This goes for jazz guitarist Lucian Gray, singer/songwriter Samantha Schultz and others who completed their education.
At session end, Berklee president Roger Brown addresses the crowd of aspiring hopefuls and outlines the college’s priorities, accomplishments, and Slaight Family contributions as being part of the Berklee Canada community. Always a classy affair.
Congrats to Gary Slaight, recipient of an Honourary Doctorate Degree from Berklee. In fact, I was able to trap Gary for an engaging five minute chat about this special occasion. Enjoy!
This is quite an honor coming from the Berklee College of Music. Your thoughts on receiving this award.
I'm very proud. I don't have any other doctorates so it's unique and based on my affection for the school and our history with the school. I think it's really an honor that they've decided to give me this award.
Your association with the school started when?
When my daughter Ali started going there what must be 12 years ago.
Ali had only one choice in mine and if she didn't get into Berklee, I don't know what she was going to do. That was the choice, that was the school, that was the mission. And fortunately, she got in.
You visited prior. Your thoughts.
Incredible. Even more incredible was the look on her face when we walked around, and she saw all the students playing guitars on the street and just the atmosphere and the environment there. For a musician there's nothing better.
It was the city of Boston too.A totally different scene than here.
Yes, a beautiful city.
You got more deeply involved with the school in philanthropic ways.
We did for a whole bunch of reasons. But yeah, I ended up on the board for a few years.
And then we started a scholarship which basically picks one Canadian student every year who gets into Berklee but doesn't have the financial resources to go. We pay their tuition and room and board for the full four years. And I think we're on our 12th student now.
Are you satisfied with the outcome of these scholarships?
Totally! It's great that they could go to the school and fulfill their dreams. They're doing what they wanted to do, and they were able to do that because of our help.
With the degree they’ve earned they'll be able to teach and do other things.
They will be able to find a career in music for sure.
What did Ali bring away from the experience she is using now in Slaight Music?
I think just the general knowledge of music and all different areas because you don't just take music courses. She did an art course and a course on Germany and you do workshops and you do ensembles. It just gives you a fully rounded perspective on the music industry. It's not just about the talent.
Will you continue to be part of the Berklee College of Music?
Oh yeah. We'll keep doing the scholarship for sure. We also help fund a program to do with substance abuse and issues that young people have in a party environment. There are people kids can talk to if they have these issues.
You must see your investment in the school first hand with the recording labs and think back a decade how far this has come.
President, Roger Brown has done an incredible job and he's an amazing man. I must give him a lot of the credit for our involvement. It’s his vision and his passion for the school. And there's a gentleman named Mirek Vana who helped Ali navigate the world that is Berklee.
Roger Brown is incredible and he’s a philanthropic man and he has vision and he's great with kids and he's a musician and he's a drummer and he's just a great guy!