Lawrence Berk papers on the Schillinger System, circa 1930s
Scope and Contents
This collection consists of 11 binders comprised of notes, formulas and other figures compiled and created by Lawrence Berk, founder of Berklee College of Music. Although materials are undated, it is assumed that these materials were produced in the 1930s as a result of Berk’s private study with Joseph Schillinger, creator of the Schillinger System of Musical Composition (SSOMC). Therefore, these papers presumably contain the foundation of Berklee’s early curriculum.
The materials in this collection include handwritten notes by both Berk and Schillinger, and lessons on various aspects of the Schillinger system: theories of harmony, rhythm, melody, counterpoint, pitch scales, permutations, and geometrical inversions. The final binder also contains an introductory course in arranging, presumed to have been authored by Lawrence Berk and possibly others.
Schillinger’s methods were later compiled and published posthumously as the Schillinger System of Musical Composition, consisting of 12 books presented over 2 volumes. See series-level notes, created with the assistance of independent Schillinger scholar Phil DiTullio, for information relating Berk and Schillinger’s notes to the corresponding book in the published version.
- Creation: circa 1930s
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research by appointment. Advance notice is required for access because materials are stored offsite.
These materials have been digitized and are available online
Lawrence Berk (1908-1995) grew up in Boston’s West End and was the founder and first president of Berklee College of Music, a position he held from 1945-1979. Berk graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in architectural engineering in 1932. He was a pianist, composer, arranger and educator.
Berk was particularly influenced by Russian-born mathematician, music theorist, composer, and educator Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943), who developed a unique mathematical system of music composition and analysis known as the Schillinger System of Musical Composition (SSOMC). The SSOMC was utilized by various well-known popular musicians, including George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and others (Hazell, Ed, and Lee Eliot Berk, Berklee: the First Fifty Years. Boston, Berklee Publication, 1995. Print. p. 4).
Lawrence Berk worked as a composer and arranger for CBS and NBC radio in New York in the 1930s, during which time he studied with Schillinger. Berk went on to become one of a dozen instructors sometimes referred to as the “12 disciples” who were authorized to teach the Schillinger System of Musical Composition. In 1945, Berk purchased a three-story building at 284 Newbury Street and established his own music school based on these methods. Schillinger House soon became widely renown as an innovative school for jazz and contemporary music and was eventually renamed Berklee College of Music, as it is known today (Hazell, Ed, and Lee Eliot Berk, Berklee: the First Fifty years. Boston, Berklee Publication, 1995. Print. pp.10-11).
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Language of Materials
Multiple binders containing notes, formulas, and other figures compiled and created by Lawrence Berk, founder of Berklee College of Music, likely produced in the 1930s as a result of Berk’s private study with Joseph Schillinger, creator of the Schillinger System of Musical Composition. These papers presumably contain the foundation of Berklee’s early curriculum.
This collection consists of 11 series; with subseries assigned to Series I and IV as follows:
* Series I: Theories of rhythm, harmonization of melody, counterpoint, general harmony, instrumental forms of harmony
- Subseries 1: Theory of rhythm
- Subseries 2: Harmonization of melody
- Subseries 3: Correlation of melodies (counterpoint)
- Subseries 4: General theory of harmony
- Subseries 5: Elements of melodic figuration
- Subseries 6: Instrumental forms of harmony
* Series II: Theory of counterpoint
* Series III: Special theory of harmony
* Series IV: Theory of melody & pitch scales
- Subseries 1: Theory of melody (primary)
- Subseries 2: Pitch scales
* Series V: General theory of harmony
* Series VI: Pedal point, melodization, harmonization
* Series VII: Special theory of harmony
* Series VIII: Special theory of harmony
* Series IX: Permutations
* Series X: Pitch scales & geometrical inversions
* Series XI: An introductory course in arranging
The arrangement of this collection was based on the original order received, with series assigned to each of the 11 binders originally housing the papers. Subseries were assigned in cases where different books (in what later became the Schillinger System of Musical Composition) appeared to have been housed together.
These materials have been digitized and are available online here
These materials were processed with interpretive and descriptive assistance from Phil DiTullio of the Schillinger Society, who provided the information included in series-level scope and content notes.
- Lawrence Berk papers on the Schillinger System, circa 1930s
- Nicole Lewis-Prawl (Simmons GSLIS intern) and Sofía Becerra-Licha (2013); revisions by Ashley Gray (2022)
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- The processing of this collection and the creation of this finding aid were completed with support from a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
- 2022: Revised by Ashley Gray (Processing Archivist) to include expanded description