VIDEO: Berklee President Roger H. Brown Awards A. R. Rahman Honorary Doctorate

Berklee president Roger H. Brown awards Grammy- and Oscar-winning composer A. R. Rahman an honorary doctorate.

October 29, 2014

On October 25, 2014, Berklee College of Music awarded Grammy- and Oscar-winning composer A. R. Rahman an honorary doctorate. Below is a transcript of president Roger H. Brown's opening remarks and honorary doctorate presentation. 

Opening remarks

"Thank you so much Chandrika, thanks everyone for being here. We are so excited; Chandrika has been a fantastic ally of ours. She’s both strategic and very musical, very intuitive, very analytical, very active. She keeps me busy. She has as many ideas as I do.

"On behalf of the Berklee College Board of Trustees, we just finished a very busy meeting and most of us are here with you tonight. I want to welcome you on behalf of my wife, Linda Mason, and myself. It’s so great to have you here with us.

"Before we get started I want to take a moment to thank our event co-hosts, who really helped a lot with the planning:


·      Jamshed Bharucha and Jessica Papatolicas

·      Desh and Jaisheree Deshpande

·      Arjun Gupta

·      Bill Kaiser

·      Santhana and Namita Krishnan

·      Mark and Meera Mayer

·      Deepti and Vinit Nijhawan

·      Nitin Nohria and Monica Chandra

·      Sharmila Ray and Sharmistha Ray

·      Neerja Sethi and Bharat Desai

·      Chandrika and Ranjan Tandon

·      Susan Whitehead

"Thank you so much for everything you did to make this possible.

"Rabindranath Tagore wrote, 'I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.'

"When one’s dreams, one’s service, and one’s action all come together, great things can happen and such is the case with the man we honor tonight.

"I’ve been reflecting about the history of Indian music but first let me start closer to home. What were the conditions that allowed the flourishing of American music in the 20th century?  I can think of at least four things: the intersection of diverse cultures with musical traditions from all different parts of world; rapid economic growth, urbanization, and mobility—people moving from Mississippi to Chicago, from Georgia to New York; a vibrant entertainment industry with radio, television, and film exploding; a sprawling chaotic democracy, with freedom of speech and freedom of the press; and a history of nonviolence to resolve social ills.  

"So if we ask ourselves, what part of the world has these same conditions that allowed music to flourish in 20th century America. And you would have to say, without a doubt, that country is India. There are over 1,600 languages spoken—30 of those with more than a million people who speak them. Musical traditions of all kinds, massive economic growth, urbanization, people moving all over the country, sharing their musical cultures. It has Bollywood, part of what we’re celebrating tonight, and exploding media enterprises. It has freedom of expression not found in most other rapidly developing nations. It, too, has a sprawling, chaotic democracy. It has a history of nonviolent social movements that were an inspiration to those that happened here in the United States.

"So in my opinion, big things are in store for music not only in India but the rest of the world discovering the music of India. And not only within India but the Indian diaspora of Indian Americans, Canadians, Brits, Australians, Kenyans—people all over the world who bring with them their cultural traditions.

"Here at Berklee, we have educated, among many others, Rudresh Mahanthappa, one of the foremost jazz saxophonists in the world, an American-born musician of Indian descent. Or from India, people like Prasanna, a magnificent guitarist who you’ll hear later tonight, who’s collaborated frequently with A. R.

"So, we intend to be part of this effort, part of this movement. We see Berklee not as an American college that welcomes students from other parts of the world, but a global oasis for musical creation that just happens to be located in Boston. This event is really important to us, music is really important to us because we believe music can change the world, and at Berklee, we aspire to be a force in educating the artists who will create the music that will change the world. Please enjoy your evening, and I will be back later to present an honorary doctorate to A. R. Rahman. Thank you very much." 

Presentation of honorary doctorate

"Berklee College of Music’s honorary doctor of music degree was established in 1971, following the college’s 25th anniversary, to recognize those musicians and industry figures that have earned the overwhelming respect of their peers for outstanding professional achievement and enduring contributions to the world of contemporary music. Duke Ellington was the first recipient of the honorary doctorate. He was followed by such artists as Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Sting, Juan Luis Guerra, Howard Shore, Aretha Franklin, and Carole King. As Berklee continues to grow as an international institution with students at our campuses in Boston and Valencia, Spain from more than 105 nations throughout the world, how appropriate that we honor a musician here tonight whose arc knows no borders.

"Many of our faculty members at Berklee have been instructing our students that a successful career in music requires a wide range of skills, and the living, breathing embodiment of this ideal is surely A. R. Rahman. Having learned about film scoring by watching and assisting his father, the late composer R. K. Shekhar, Mr. Rahman began composing jingles for advertisements and then quickly started turning heads with his stunning score for the 1992 film Roja. Since then, he has become one of the world’s most outstanding and prolific Academy Award- and Grammy Award-winning composers—the mastermind behind unforgettable scores to films such as Bombay, Dil Se, Lagaan, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, and a whole host of Bollywood’s best. That would be enough to merit our recognition, but there’s more.

"As a performer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, A. R. Rahman has added new textures to the music of India and delighted audiences all over the world, from sharing a stage with the late Michael Jackson in Germany to performing for President Barack Obama and guests at the White House. His capacity to draw from a vast global palette has birthed thrilling collaborations with artists such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the Black Eyed Peas, just to name a few.

"Mr. Rahman is also a talented songwriter, frequently touching upon universal themes that speak to the listener regardless of their nation or culture. That sentiment—that our shared connection to one another overshadows any of our differences—is also a core component of Mr. Rahman’s extensive philanthropic and humanitarian work, most of which is undertaken without publicity or fanfare of any kind.

"In noting this occasion, Grammy- and Emmy Award-winning film composer and Berklee alumnus Alan Silvestri says, “A. R. Rahman’s gifts light up the entire world and once again demonstrate the magnificent power of music to thrill us, challenge us, and heal us. How lucky are we all to have him here with us.”

"Another of Mr. Rahman’s peers, Academy Award-winning film composer Hans Zimmer, tells us, “We all know A. R.  to be an extraordinary composer. His music reaches across the world, transcending cultural boundaries. To do this is beyond mere talent and musicianship, but it's the true soul of a good man that we get to listen to.”

"Beyond his own music, with the founding of his KM Music Conservatory in Chennai, Mr. Rahman is already training the next generation to continue breaking down the artificial walls that can limit our musical thinking—while at the same time revering the unique musical traditions of both East and West that help give all of us our sense of place and of culture. For his groundbreaking contributions to music and his dedication to harnessing its potential as a unifying force, it is my pleasure and great honor to present this honorary doctor of music degree to A. R. Rahman."

Read about A. R. Rahman's October master class at Berklee and some of the alumni instrumental to his career.