Joseph Mulholland is an associate professor in the Harmony Department at Berklee College of Music. Before coming to Berklee, he taught piano and ensemble at Brown University and Boston-area music schools, as well as serving as music director for Didi Stewart and Friends, an award-winning ensemble devoted to presenting full-length tributes to composers and performers in the Great American Songbook and classic R&B styles.
An accomplished pianist, recording artist, composer, and teacher, he has released three CDs of original music written for his sextet, and has composed numerous electronic scores for Boston-area dance companies, including a tango suite commissioned by the Northeast Youth Ballet that was performed in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Mulholland performs with his trio 100 nights per year at the Top of the Hub, an upscale jazz venue in Boston, in addition to appearing as a sideman and vocal accompanist in numerous other concert and club settings. As music director for the Windhover Center for the Performing Arts, he has composed and recorded sound design and songs for original productions of Peer Gynt and Dogtown Common. He also wrote 11 songs and three dance numbers for the original musical, Battle for Pigeon Cove Harbor.
Piano is his first love and main instrument, but Mulholland is equally comfortable on synthesizer and has an abiding love of Hammond B-3 organ. For enjoyment and variety, he plays guitar and percussion. He has recently divided his spare time between transcribing and playing Brazilian music and studying with the legendary jazz teacher Charlie Banacos.
"The essence of the Harmony Department is music fundamentals as they play out in notation, chord progression, melody, and bass lines. In any other school, they call it theory. And it is theory, but it's much more practical than an ordinary theory class would be. We teach students to take apart the music they listen to and understand how it's put together. They take the music apart like a watch, see what the pieces are and what they're doing. Hopefully, the students learn from that and use that knowledge to create their own music, a watch of their own—but one that still runs."
"What I do in class is a combination of a lot of things. I play lots of examples of all different types of music, music from all over the past 100 years with heavy weighting toward the last 25 or so. The other thing I do is have my students bring in music they are listening to and working on, and we use their music as a tool for exploring the concepts that we need to cover. I've often said that I can teach you something about music from anything. If a song has one chord in it, I can teach you some harmony from that. So if they bring in a Lenny Kravitz tune, we're going to be talking about the bass line, and we're going to learn what the notes are in the bass line and why the bass player played those notes. We're going to learn why the chord progression sounds cool—there's a reason some chord progressions are cooler than others. We're going to listen to the notes in the melody and talk about what those notes are and what relationships they have to the chords and the bass line."
"But it's not just familiar music. I want my students to have a deepened ability to understand what they're hearing. For example, if they hear an unfamiliar piece of music, especially in a style they haven't typically played before, I would like them to perceive the musical elements in that style so they can gain some appreciation for what's new to them. If you can do that, you can grow for the rest of your life. It's one thing to be an expert in your chosen style; it's something very different to be able to grow over a lifetime as a musician and renew yourself."