Americans always break the rules. Below is an example of Berklee grad, Leehom Wang, taking the classical (his favourite classical composer is Beethoven), American (jazz and R&B), and Cantonese musical traditions complete with the percussion and drumming in lion dancing and fusing them together (harmonizing them) to create something new. This is not easy. He’s a true musician. This is a very experimental piece – a 21st century masterpiece. A standard for those who aspire to harmonize world music styles with contemporary and classical music styles.

You know why I say it’s not easy? Try to harmonize the Chinese pentatonic scale with the Western scale. They are two completely different systems. So he would have had to transcribe the Chinese notes to Western notes before harmonizing them so that they don’t sound off. That’s what the Cantonese composers did. Not everybody can do it well.

RCM would have a hissy fit and throw a temper tantrum like a five year old who had been refused candy because they look down on contemporary and popular music and pay scant lip service to world music. But I love it because I broke out of my RCM cult-like mindset. So would London as they have already added world music and contemporary pieces to their syllabi and exam repertoires.

This is the Berklee (they are located in Boston – the birthplace of the American Revolution) philosophy, which is totally counter to RCM’s (Toronto) underlying focus on the European medieval/baroque/classical/romantic era tradition: “Founded on the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music was through the study and practice of contemporary music.”

Different schools. Different philosophies. Toronto’s RCM is more about following the rules, learning only to pass the exams (that they profit greatly from as RCM is loaded with money and teachers here who only teach the RCM curricula also profit from it as well so they refuse to teach the curricula from the other conservatories even if they are aware of them), and accreditation/credentials. Students wind up not truly understanding what they just learned – just enough to get a good mark on the exams to get the credentials. The European and American schools are more about instilling a love of music, musical experimentation, and innovation.

Berklee is known informally as the Boston Conservatory. See the link below for more information.