March 20, 2012

NEC Announces 2012 Honorary Degree Recipients, Commencement Speaker 

Eric Booth, Teaching Artist, El Sistema Activist to Give Commencement Address

New England Conservatory will bestow Honorary doctorates on five distinguished artists at its annual Commencement Exercises, May 20 at 3 p.m. in NEC’s Jordan Hall. The recipients are percussionist Alan Abel; wind conductor/educator Frank Battisti; teaching artist Eric Booth; jazz pianist, singer and NEC alumnus Freddy Cole; and tenor George Shirley. Booth, who in recent years has devoted himself to furthering the El Sistema movement in the United States, will give the Commencement Address. 

In addition, approximately 280 graduate students in the class of 2012 will be awarded degrees and diplomas the Bachelor of Music, Graduate Diploma, Master of Music, Doctor of Musical Arts, and Artist Diploma. Other speakers will include President Tony Woodcock, Provost Thomas Novak, and a student speaker to be announced.

The Exercises are free and open to the public.

Biographies of the Honorees

Alan Abel
Former Associate Principal Percussionist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Alan Abel retired in September 1997 after 38 years of service. He currently works with graduate students at Temple University and gives master classes at Rutgers University. Abel has compiled two books on orchestral studies for timpani and percussion for G. Schirmer, Inc. and has designed and produced symphonic triangles and bass drum stands that are used throughout the world. Abel has served on the Board of Directors of the Percussive Arts Society (PAS), was inducted into the PAS Hall of Fame in 1998, and is presently Chair of the PAS Symphonic Committee. He has been a faculty member of the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University, Glassboro State College, and the Philadelphia Settlement Music School.

He has given clinics and master classes throughout the U.S., Australia, Germany, and Japan, and is still active in this medium.

Frank Battisti
President Gunther Schuller brought Frank L. Battisti to New England Conservatory in 1969 with the goal of creating a wind ensemble program on the model of the seminal work done by Frederick Fennell at the Eastman School of Music. During his time at NEC, Battisti cemented his reputation as one of the most respected champions of music for winds in America, and the NEC Wind Ensemble amassed a sizable portfolio of premiere performances and recordings. Battisti's inventory of recordings with NECWE has continued to appear on CD since his retirement in 2000. At Commencement 1997, Frank Battisti was the first recipient of NEC's Louis and Adrienne Krasner Teaching Excellence Award. In 2001, NEC hosted an international symposium, "Wind Music across the Century," in Battisti's honor.

Battisti is past president of the College Band Directors National Association, and his articles on the wind ensemble, music education, and wind literature have been published by many national and international journals. He is also author of The 20th Century American Wind Band/Ensemble and coauthor of the book Score Study.

He has conducted many professional, university, and school wind bands/ensembles throughout the world. During his time on the NEC faculty he also conducted all-state bands at major music conferences. Founder and conductor emeritus of NEC's Massachusetts Youth Wind Ensemble, Battisti also founded the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles. Battisti has commissioned and conducted the premiere performances of works by Colgrass, Chavez, Persichetti, Bassett, Pinkham, Wilder, Benson, Tippett, Harbison, and Holloway. 

Eric Booth (Commencement speaker)
After earning an MFA from Stanford University, Eric Booth launched a 20-year career as an actor, appearing in six plays on Broadway, dozens of plays off-Broadway, and at leading regional theaters across the country. Mr. Booth collaborated with prominent figures including Mary Tyler Moore, Anne Bancroft, and Rex Harrison, performed 23 Shakespearean roles, and won “Best Actor” awards on both coasts. Throughout 1981, he performed the American tour of Alec McCowen’s one-man play St. Mark’s Gospel, including a month at The Kennedy Center and six weeks in Chicago.  Additionally, he has performed many times on television, directed five productions, and produced two plays in New York.

Also active as a teacher, Booth has held faculty positions in the Theater departments at Stanford University and New York University, and he has lectured, led workshops, and been a visiting scholar at over 40 universities across the country. After launching his career as a pedagogue at the Lincoln Center Institute in 1980, he served as Founding Director of the Teacher Center at the Leonard Bernstein Center and led both the Arts and Education and the Morse Fellowship programs at the Juilliard School, all of which are considered models for teaching artist training. Currently, he remains on faculty at the Lincoln Center Institute and also teaches at the Kennedy Center and the Tanglewood Festival. He is frequently described as one of America’s most creative and effective teachers of the arts, America’s most prominent Teaching Artist, and one of the nation’s pioneers in finding new ways for artists to forge relationships with businesses and communities.

Booth studied at Middlebury College for two years before moving on to Emerson College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Dramatic Arts and Religion in 1972. He also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree (Summa Cum Laude) in Theatre Arts from Stanford University in 1974. 

Freddy Cole
Lionel Frederick Cole is an American jazz singer and pianist, whose recording career has spanned over fifty years. He is leader of the Freddy Cole Quartet, which regularly tours the US, Europe, the Far East and South America. He was born on October 15, 1931, to Edward and Paulina Nancy Cole, the youngest sibling of musicians Eddie Cole, Ike Cole and Nat King Cole. He is the father of Lionel Cole and the uncle of Natalie Cole. Cole grew up in Chicago, where visitors to his home included Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Lionel Hampton.

Although he began playing piano at age six, Cole hoped for a career in professional football.  A hand injury ended this dream and Cole began playing and singing in Chicago clubs. Although he was ready to hit the road at eighteen, his mother intervened and he continued his musical education at the Roosevelt Institute in Chicago before moving to New York in 1951. While in New York, Cole studied at the Juilliard School of Music, then went on to study Popular Music-Arranging at New England Conservatory.

Cole's first single, The Joke's on Me, was released in 1952 by Topper Records, a small Chicago-based label, and his next single, Whispering Grass, was released on Columbia's OKeh label in 1953.  He later spent several months on the road with Johnny Coles and Benny Golson as a member of an Earl Bostic band before returning to hone his skills in the bistros of New York. He went on to work with Grover Washington, Jr. and to record jingles for various companies, including Turner Classic Movies.

During the 1970s, Cole recorded several albums for European and English based labels. He was the subject of the 2006 documentary The Cole Nobody Knows by filmmaker Clay Walker. In June of that year, Cole was added to the Steinway Artist roster. Cole was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2007.  In July 2009, Cole released a recording featuring his own quartet (guitarist Randy Napoleon, drummer Curtis Boyd, and bassist Elias Bailey), along with alto saxophonist Jerry Weldon and pianist John DiMartino playing live at Dizzy's jazz club in Lincoln Center. Cole and his trio continue to regularly tour the US, Europe, the Far East and South America.

George Shirley
Tenor George Shirley is the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Emeritus Professor of Voice at the University of Michigan School of Music. He is in demand nationally and internationally as performer, teacher and lecturer. He has won international acclaim for his performances in the world's great opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera (New York), Royal Opera (Covent Garden, London), Deutsche Oper (Berlin), Téatro Colón (Buenos Aires), Netherlands Opera (Amsterdam), L'Opéra de Monte Carlo, New York City Opera, Scottish Opera (Glasgow), Chicago Lyric Opera, San Francisco Opera, Washington Opera (Kennedy Center), Michigan Opera Theater, Glyndebourne Festival, and Santa Fe Opera.

He has recorded for RCA, Columbia, Decca, Angel, Vanguard, CRI, and Philips and received a Grammy Award in 1968 for his role (Ferrando) in the RCA recording of Mozart's Così fan tutte.

In addition to oratorio and concert literature, Mr. Shirley has, in a career that spans 49 years, performed more than 80 operatic roles in major opera houses around the globe with many of the world's most renowned conductors (Solti, Klemperer, Stravinsky, Ormandy, von Karajan, Colin Davis, Boehm, Ozawa, Haitink, Boult, Leinsdorf, Boulez, DePriest, Krips, Cleva, Dorati, Pritchard, Bernstein, Maazel and others).

Professor Shirley was the first African-American to be appointed to a high school teaching post in music in Detroit, the first African-American member of the United States Army Chorus in Washington, D.C., and the first African-American tenor and second African-American male to sing leading roles with the Metropolitan Opera, where he remained for eleven years.

Mr. Shirley has served on three occasions as a master teacher in the National Association of Teachers of Singing Intern Program for Young NATS Teachers. He was also a member of the faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and School for ten years.

For further information on NEC's Commencement Exercises, check the NEC Website or call the NEC Concert Line at 617-585-1122.  NEC’s Jordan Hall, Brown Hall, Williams Hall and the Keller Room are located at 30 Gainsborough St., corner of Huntington Ave. St. Botolph Hall is located at 241 St. Botolph St. between Gainsborough and Mass Ave.


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory in Boston, MA offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world.  Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars.  Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide.  Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, contemporary improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Programs and Partnerships Program, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors.  Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation.

NEC presents more than 900 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, century-old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz, contemporary improvisation, and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre or Paramount Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115