David Mash – Accidental Music Maven

From the Voltage Connect 2017 Concert Program:

David S. Mash: Accidental Music Maven – By Dr. Thomas Rhea

David Mash is a maven of music and music technology-an expert and connoisseur. In fact, he is much more: an experienced performer-composer; a distinguished music teacher; one of the earliest innovator-experimenters who adopted contemporary electronic music technology; an AppleMaster; an acknowledged pioneer in the development of secondary and tertiary music technology programs; a captivating music technology performer-clinician; and a sought-after adviser to manufacturers of music hardware and software.

Pretty amazing, considering that he never intended to take any of these paths. One might say that David’s musical journey was “accidental,” like the occasional changes of notes in written music. In David’s words, “it never occurred to me that I might become a professional musician when I was a kid. It was just something I did because I loved music, and could always make some money doing it.”

In David Mash’s extended family most of the men were either in business or the trades. The hope was that David would become a professional, perhaps a doctor, dentist, or lawyer. Music was revered in his family; in fact, David’s mother Rose was a professional musician, and in 1936 became the youngest member of the Detroit Symphony as harpist, and was an accomplished pianist and teacher. However, she was adamant that no child of hers should ever become a professional musician. The children in the family were not allowed to touch the pianos in the home!

David began his musical life at age seven, with the guitar. Fortunately, in the Mash family the guitar wasn’t deemed a serious musical instrument, even for a professional musician. But, fate-or happenstance, intervened. David was severely injured at age seven in an automobile accident. In some ways, this misfortune cast the die-albeit in several directions simultaneously. First, due to his contact and admiration for the physicians who attended him, David decided he would join their ranks as an adult. But secondarily, his extended convalescence provided plenty of time to practice the guitar. Hmmmm . . .

David Mash age 7 Detroit, 1959

Due to their reverence for music, Mash’s family sought the best guitar teacher in Detroit, Joe Fava. Now, Mr. Fava had many famous guitar students, including Barney Kessel, Earl Klugh, and Dennis Coffey. And it turned out that young David showed great talent for the instrument. So much so, that Mash wound up in Master Classes provided by luminaries such as Alexandre Lagoya and Leo Brouwer. What Joe Fava provided, early on, was expert instruction, grounding in “classical” guitar technique, as well as insight into the principles of music theory. Soon, Mash went electric, and once again studied with the best, Jack Moncrief, and was accepted into Johnny Smith’s Master Class. Moncrief was just off the road as James Brown’s electric guitarist. Starting at age eleven, David enjoyed early success playing rock and roll in several bands in the Detroit area. But again, at no point did he imagine that he would become a professional musician, although he was part of a milieu that might enhance that possibility.

Misfortune struck again. Mash’s father Jack passed away when David was 14. David started working at Maestro and Wonderland music stores in Detroit doing stock work. But by age 15, he was teaching guitar in their studios, and at age 16 established his own private studio with some 30 students. This teaching he did continuously up to the time he entered Berklee College of Music, as well as thereafter as a College employee. There is a maxim that if you want to learn something thoroughly-teach it.

David Mash, age 17 Detroit, 1969

In 1970 David entered Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan as a pre-med major. He had completed three years when his sister Diane was hospitalized with a serious illness. David visited Diane in the hospital and almost fainted at her sight. “The mere sight of blood made me more than a bit queasy.” When he went home he had an epiphany: “I don’t really want to become a Doctor.” What David realized due to this real world brush with an actual medical environment, was that his capacity for empathy was inordinate. But of course, a musician can’t have too much empathy! Even so, this insight didn’t lead him toward becoming a professional musician.

Rather, David thought about pursuing painting, his minor at Oakland University. His sense of form, visual rhythm, and composition were excellent. In fact, he had won a National Scholastic Art Award in High School, this for a painting he had thrown into the trash. One of his teachers had fished the painting out and entered it into the competition. But in David’s words: “my paintings whose color schemes looked good to me weren’t accepted by others, and my paintings whose color schemes I didn’t like, were liked by other people. I eventually started working only in black and white.” Simple enough, David Mash is profoundly color-blind.

He soon realized that success in art and color-blindness are not a useful mix. Finally he decided to major in music. It was something he had always done with passion. So, he looked for a local institution with a program. When he entered as a music major at Wayne State University, he did so without the monetary support of his mother.

Lo and behold, who was the Guitar Instructor at Wayne State but Joe Fava, David’s early teacher! Fava told him that he doubted that Wayne State’s traditional music program at that time would meet his musical goals, and suggested that David apply to Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA.

There was a nexus of opportunity that both Mash and Berklee recognized. It was apparent that he was “ahead” of many of his fellow students, so Berklee hired him to teach guitar, almost from his beginning as a student.

Mash continued playing gigs in Boston that paid the rent (and tuition), and his interest in composition burgeoned. This new emphasis, and his natural musical maturation led in 1976 to the incorporation of Ictus, a jazz-rock fusion band. He wrote most of the music for the group, and fronted as a guitarist. It’s a rule that more-sophisticated music typically has a smaller audience. But Ictus developed a regional following, and played in venues all over the Northeast and Midwest. Ictus had talented performers, rehearsed regularly, and Mash’s charts were unique and ear catching.

But, injury once again reared its ugly head, as Mash experienced problems in his left hand that played havoc with his guitar playing. He turned to the medical community that he respected, had two unsuccessful surgeries, and eventually volunteered to be the subject of an international conference of hand surgeons. Unfortunately, some 60 experts concluded that nothing could be done to restore his hand, advising him to give up the guitar.

What now? David cast about, first trying and rejecting trombone, then taking several lessons on vibes. David eventually chose the monophonic synthesizer because he could play its keyboard using only his right hand. He sold all his guitars, no doubt an action that created personal angst, and purchased an ARP 2600 and sequencer, a few scant weeks prior to premiering as a synthesist on stage with Ictus, opening for Dave Brubeck’s band.

Mash with Ictus, 1982

Mash describes his start as a synthesist-sound designer as “frightening.” As he says, “mostly all I could do was play some of the lead lines, double the bass lines, and make a few sound effects. Our sax player, Bob Zung, insisted that I be able to phrase those lines musically-not exactly the strong point for synthesizers of that day.” But, since he wrote most of the music for the band, this provided time to create a unique role as performing synthesist.

Mash threw himself into learning everything you could about a synthesizer in those days, and shortly he was an expert. He wound up playing hundreds of gigs using that ARP 2600 and a variety of analog synthesizers he later acquired. And, he went about “paying his dues” as a music technologist on the road as a performing synthesist.

David blossomed in several areas of his professional and personal life due to another epiphany: he realized that as much as he enjoyed performing, he was tiring of the road, and wanted to settled down, write more, and marry his soul mate Erica Mack. So, he decided to focus on his career at Berklee, along with composing, writing, and doing some playing.

Some chance events are “accidents.” When they are fortunate, they are referred to as serendipity. So, it was serendipitous when David took the job of “musician” (synthesist) for the musical stage production of Mother Courage by Bertold Brecht, which was staged by The Boston Shakespeare Theatre. It was a contemporary production, featuring a custom built stage with seats below normal stage level. The three musicians-including Mash, appeared onstage continuously-but only their heads protruded through the floor of the constructed stage!

Accidents. Serendipity. Misfortune or opportunity? As it happens, Berklee’s Provost Robert Share was in the audience for that production. He noticed David’s role, and asked David what the College might do to enhance its teaching of these new instruments, “synthesizers.”

“Bob Share was a major gadget geek, and it was plain to me that the time was ripe for a different direction.” Berklee already had an electronic music track started by Michael Rendish, who had the first electronic music performance ensemble at Berklee featuring ARP modular synthesizers.

Mash realized that the equipment that would be needed to support expanded coursework engaging a larger number of students would be expensive, so he produced detailed reports on what the prospective new curriculum might require. His reports might easily be mistaken for works or art; they were replete with exquisitely detailed graphics.

Mash was once again the beneficiary of classical training. He had taken two electronic music courses with Michael Rendish and Jack Weaver, and so was grounded in the milieu of musique concrète and elektronische music. But, Mash’s experience as a performing synthesist took him in a different direction, one that would prove to be hugely popular at the College. During fall 1982 through summer 1983 he was released from all teaching duties so he could develop the first three courses for a new Performance Synthesis curriculum. Some 95 students signed up for those courses in fall 1984, and by 1985 more than 180 eager students began to crowd into the new Music Synthesis Major at Berklee headed by Mash as Founding Chair. This was the first degree program in MIDI and music synthesis in the United States. The program attracted the attention of manufacturers, and that year David directed a concert in the Berklee Performance Center using synthesizers he had largely borrowed. It was a roaring success-literally.

He also began his lengthy involvement as a consultant and collaborator on product development with leaders in the multimedia, software, and hardware industries such as Adobe, Avid, Roland, and Korg. During this time he also penned an owners manual for Kurzweil’s flagship sampler, the K250, as well as created sounds for the K150 and consulted on the design of the MIDIBoard. In total, mash wrote and published nine books on music technology.

Mash with Alan R. Pearlman, Ray Kurzweil, Tom Coster, and Bob Moog

Mash’s reputation as a leading authority on music technology and education grew meteorically, and he was featured on national and international broadcasts such as 3-2-1 Contact; Newton’s Apple; World Monitor; CBS Evening New; All Things Considered; and Voice of America. Rolling Stone Magazine hailed David S. Mash as “the industry’s leading evangelist for the marriage of music and technology.” Sometime later, Apple Computer named David an AppleMaster in 1997 for his contributions to the fields of music, technology, and education.

Mash with Steve Jobs after Macworld SF Keynote 1998

The MS Major burgeoned, and Mash recruited Faculty: Mary Simoni, Mark Minter-Smith, Chris Noyes, Dr. Richard Boulanger, and Michael Brigida were the “originals,” all of whom had earned their stripes variously in the new field of synthesizers. Tom Rhea joined the MS Department in 1986 as Assistant Chair, and later became a full time MS Faculty member. The MS Department was later renamed the Electronic Production and Design Department (EPD).

In 1989, Mash turned his attention to broader issues within music education, particularly the role that computers might play not only in making new music, but how they might impact Berklee’s entire curriculum for learning music. He was promoted to be Berklee’s Assistant Dean of Curriculum for Academic Technology (BADCAT) in order to spearhead technology use throughout the Berklee curriculum. One of his first tasks was lead the conversion of the library music collection from analog, reel-to-reel tapes to digital file storage, and replace the paper card catalog with a new digital database. He led the design of the Center for Technology in Music Instruction (CTMI) and Berklee Learning Center, and also took on leadership of Berklee Press.

And through another twist of fate, a right-hand injury brought him back into contact with Dr. Lewis Millender; the hand surgeon who had tried unsuccessfully to save David’s left hand. Dr. Millender was able to surgically restore the use of David’s left hand, and more than a decade after being forced to give up his principal instrument, he was able to return to playing guitar. Today David is a leading proponent of guitar synthesis and technology.

In 1994 Mash wrote a “two page short story” and sent it to then Dean of Curriculum Gary Burton, who forwarded this paper to President Lee Berk. Mash described a scenario in which Pat Pattison, a noted faculty member in the Songwriting Department might plan and execute a class using a networked environment where faculty and students could download and listen to music, and view scores and supporting educational materials to facilitate learning. This paper launched the creation of the Berklee Learning Resources Network, which served as a foundation to the creation of the college’s first 5-year strategic plan, covering the period from 1995-2000.

In 1997, now serving as Vice President for Technology, Mash began work to replace the existing Berklee telephone network, provide a Local Area Network (LAN) that would support digitized audio and video, and provide the infrastructure to support his vision of a networked music college—the music campus of the future. At David’s suggestion, Berklee hired Dave Kusek to lead Berklee Press, and as the college explored digital media in support of learning, Kusek, Mash, Tom Riley, Gary Burton, and Lee Berk began discussing the creation of an online destination for musicians on the new World Wide Web, including an online music school. Kusek focused on building the online music school, and in 2001 inaugurated Berklee Online-for which David Mash authored one of the first courses.

As the 20th Century turned, Mash turned his attention to ever widening circles, first leading Berklee’s effort to reimagine music teacher preparation through Berklee’s first-ever federal government grant to “Prepare Tomorrow’s Teachers to use Technology.” This effort led Mash to collaborate with the Music Education Department and Curtis Warner, then Director of the President’s Office of Community and Governmental Affairs, later the Director of Berklee City Music.

In 2006, Berklee’s new president, Roger H. Brown invited David to take a leadership role with City Music, working with Curtis Warner to expand the program into a national movement. As Vice President for Technology and Education Outreach, Mash and Warner built a consortium of after-school community music programs that shared the mission of providing free contemporary popular music instruction for under-served middle and high school students. This consortium is known as the City Music Network, and in 2017 has 50 locations across North America, serving 30,000 students.

In order to ensure high quality educational experiences, Mash led the creation of the Berklee PULSE music method, an online toolset for music teachers and their students. It provides lesson plans for teachers, and out-of-class practice materials for students, so that students and teachers can maximize their limited time together.

By 2013 PULSE had gained respect in music education circles, and the New York City Public Schools inquired about using PULSE within their in-school curriculum. Berklee City Music partnered with non-profit Little Kids Rock and the NYC Department of Education to create AMP UP NYC, providing a modern band approach to NYC students. 60,000 NYC students are now using PULSE each year. In 2016, Nashville and Philadelphia public school systems adopted PULSE for use in their curriculum.

David remarks “As my role at the college evolved, I learned that my job was building consensus in support of a vision for the future, and empowering the right people to build that future.” David says that a fortune cookie he once received said it best: It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t need to take credit. One might remark that David’s influence progressed from the one on one of private guitar students to building programs that impact hundreds of thousands of students across the globe.

Again, pretty amazing, considering that David S. Mash became the musician, music technologist, and educator almost “by accident.”

Accident or serendipity? Those thousands of students and performers who benefit from Mash’s work probably consider themselves very fortunate!