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Remembering Steve Prosser

Last week, Berklee lost an incredible educator, musician, and friend with the death of Steve Prosser. Like most, I learned of Steve’s passing late Wednesday night when students, fellow instructors, and friends of Steve began flooding facebook with their memories of Steve and also their sorrow at his passing. The huge outpouring of love for Steve that I’ve seen on social media is a testament to Steve’s excellence as a musician and professor at Berklee, but also of his character and larger than life personality.

While I only took one semester of ear training with Steve, I consider that time in his class an honor. Steve Prosser has been a legend at Berklee for quite some time now, and all my upper-semester friends insisted that I take ear training with him when given the chance. And sure enough,I found Steve to be just as humorous, passionate about teaching, and genuinely invested in his students as everyone had raved he would be.

Of all his attributes, I was probably most fond of Steve’s desire that his students be more than just skilled musicians, but concerned individuals about the world around us. Almost every class we would talk about the current news of the day, Berklee or otherwise, and I’ll never forget his voracious appetite for knowledge and his interest in learning more about all his students and the different cultural backgrounds we all came from. Even when we practiced dictations, Steve would pick music in a foreign language, frequently from scores to foreign language films, to help our class broaden our musical palettes. Of course, Steve is well-known for his humor too, and his anecdotes about Steve Jobs, the Fens in the 80’s, and well, everything in the 80’s, are still some of my fondest memories from his class.

Like many students, I knew Steve Prosser wasn’t well, as he had to cancel many of our classes due to health issues. But I was encouraged when I saw him on the sidewalk near the 150 building not even two weeks ago, looking healthy as ever and walking with an elderly man down Boylston Street. I can’t think of a better memory of Steve as my last than him selflessly assisting his fellow man and taking his time to enjoy every second of his conversation with his companion on a chilly Boston day.

Because the news of his passing and the collective memory of Steve has only been shared through closed social media platforms, Berklee-Blogs would like to invite the Berklee community to share their memories of Steve here for us all to mourn his passing together and also cherish the life he lived.

Rest in peace, Steve. Rest in peace.

– Elisa Rice

 

Post script — Kristine Adams, Steve Prosser’s ex-wife and fellow Berklee faculty member, has been gracious enough to share some unpublished photos of Steve.

Steve Prosser and his mother, Betty, at his marriage to Kristine Adams. Kristine writes “He loved his mother very much and I know he would want to have her be part of any memorial.”

 

Steve Prosser and Berklee faculty member Paul Del Nero playing at concert directed by Ken Pullig in Boston.

 

Steve Prosser and his Jazz Choir (including current Berklee faculty Charlie Sorrento, Gaye Tolan Hatfield, and Kristine Adams and Berklee alumnae Camille Schmidt, Randy Crenshaw, and Bill “Orange” Lyons) at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in 1982 for Ted Kennedy’s 50th birthday party.

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33 Comments

  1. David Villani

    I grew up with Steve in Altoona, Pa.
    We were both budding jazz pianists and enjoyed playing in local groups. Steve was part of our gang of musicians that hung out – many, many laughs with him. A genuine wit.
    We lost touch when we both got serious about school.
    I have some old tapes of him that I’ll have to dig up.

    R.I.P. Steve. You enriched all of our lives.

    DV

  2. Lisa Marie

    WOW! I thought he was doing better… What a funny and intelligent guy. He was always challenging me and yet he always accepted me— even when I was making jokes in his class.

  3. Steve Heck

    I never knew Steve that well but he always had a nice smile when we would see each other in the hallways at school. I will miss him. Steve

  4. Mr. Prosser was one of my first ear-training teachers. He introduced me to Take Six. He taught me strategies on how to train my ears to hear bass-lines and harmonies. He informed my abilities as a singer and charged me to listen to a wider range of idioms and genre.
    He will be missed.
    Thanks Steve
    R.I.P

  5. Ali Rapetti

    One of my dearest friends and best life teachers, Steve Prosser has passed on. He was one of the most brilliant and huge-hearted people I have ever been blessed to know. in the classroom, he didn’t just focus on the brightest and most attentive students, but gave just as much unwavering love and support to the most mischievous and challenging of the bunch. He always motivated with humor and individually-tailored learning styles, never fear. As a friend, he was ever-ready for a coffee, so inquisitive, with a Papa Bear kind of support. As a musician, he was simply brilliant. For me, he singlehandedly taught me the way in which I listen to, view, and analyze music. These last few weeks it seemed that although Steve’s optimism remained, some of his signature light had left. I hope that Steve, wherever you are, you are shining brighter than ever. Hope we meet again someday, play some beautiful music, and share a cosmic coffee. ♥

  6. Liz Ehrman

    I miss you, Steve! A passionate and dedicated musician and polymath who opened my ears and always rooted for the Red Sox, despite the odds.

  7. gabrielle goodman

    I remember Steve as a brilliant musician and a warm and gracious person. I had the pleasure of doing Berklee workshops and auditions with him and Russ Hoffman in 2007. My father was dying of cancer at the time and Steve’s sense of humor kept me in good spirits throughout the trip. I am grateful to him for that. There were many hysterical moments and many great educational moments working with Steve and Russ and the students in Tokyo. He will be sorely missed.
    RIP Steve

  8. Steve’s book, Essential Ear Training, was among the first books I edited for Berklee Press, in 1999. I learned a lot, working with him on it. Steve was unusually organized and clear, obviously a seasoned veteran of the classroom, and completely in command of his subject. He easily went along with my better edits, and he just as easily growled like a bear when I suggested something that he felt wasn’t serving the subject matter well. In sum, Steve cared a lot about getting it right, and I appreciated how genuine he was in relationship to his art and his profession. He was a character who will be greatly missed.

  9. ann dolan

    In comparing all the Berklee publications for a new syllabus, I couldn’t find one better than Steve Prossers. His intellect was (is ) superior . That was (is) obvious anytime you were fortunate to get his “take” on a question or opinion. I didn’t know that he was ill.I will be looking forward to our getting together to remember him

  10. Harry Skoler

    I had the good fortune to work with Steve for auditions on a couple of occasions. He was all the things that matter… kind, concerned about others, compassionate, big heart… I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with Steve. He was so easy to connect with, genuine and wise… and I will miss him greatly.

  11. When I began teaching at Berklee in January 1996, I was housed for a few years in the Ear Training Center. Steve had his office there and was an extraordinarily welcoming presence, taking an interest in what I was doing and helping me to feel at home among my musician-colleagues.

  12. Steve will be surely be missed by many people. Whenever we would cross paths on the street, he always had a warm smile and greeting. Whenever we had a chance to talk, it was a very enjoyable conversation. Steve was the type of guy that when you spoke with him, you felt that he was really listening. A beautiful person, extremely bright and gifted musician.

  13. I’ve known Steve since he was a Berklee student. Later, as a faculty member, he “handed” a course he taught, HM219 “Vocal Survey” to me. We shared a love of softball games, union woes and lastly politicial insights. I’ll think of him every Xmas when I hang the crocheted ornament made by his mom.

    Some alumna who are coming to town for his Memorial Concert in May will be staying at my home – so please keep me apprised of preparations.

    Dear Steve, Rest in Peace

    Joyce Lucia

  14. Mitch Seidman

    Steve was my former assistant chair, chair, and, of course, friend. He was warm, funny, very intelligent, and always seemed to have time for everyone. You couldn’t walk five feet in this neighborhood with him without someone smiing and saying hello. RIP Steve.
    We’re all very fortunate to have known you.

  15. Carolyn Wilkins

    When I first started teaching at Berklee, Steve was one of the people who showed me the ropes of teaching Ear Training. I will always remember his incisive wit and irreverent sense of humor.

    He will be missed.

  16. Robin Stone

    I remember Steve most from our trips out to L.A. We were sent to teach a one week session at Claremont college. Many members from the guitar department would go and on one occasion about ten of us went out to eat dinner together. Steve sat at the head of the table and conducted the entire affair, making sure everyone had plenty of food and drink. It was a wonderful evening and his spirit was so huge. Steve reminded me of the ghost of xmas present at that dinner. The one ghost in scrooge who was larger than life and full of song and libation. Since then each time I would run into Steve on the sidewalk in front of Uchida he would always appear happy and optimistic. I will miss that.

  17. Brian Lewis

    The words “unique” and “complex” just begin to describe Steve Prosser.
    Steve was one of the most talented and intelligent people I’ve ever met. I wish I could have sat in on some of his classes to see how he imparted his distinctive methods to his students because the love and respect that I’ve heard from them is truly impressive.

    He could engage you in almost any topic, from the Patriots, to the Civil War, to the history and architecture of the Back Bay. To say his musical expertise was wide-ranging is an understatement. He could understand and participate in a Gene Puerling jazz arrangement just as easily as a score by Charles Ives.
    His imprint on the Ear Training department is indelible. Most of the current faculty in the department were originally hired by Steve, and the talent and camaraderie in that department is among the best in the school. To me, that is one of Steve’s most important legacies.

    Berklee, and the world, has lost an “irreplaceable” musical force. His amazing musical talent and his ability to teach his unique methods can not be replaced. It can only be remembered. Rest in peace my friend.

  18. Amelia Gormley

    Steve could turn any cloudy day into a sunny one. I could be having the worst day, and he would always say something to make me laugh no matter what. I’ll never forget his stories of the Berklee faculty holiday parties (so good!). And he was a fantastic teacher, he always seemed to have another way of explaining something if a student was struggling to understand and he was incredibly patient. He was a truly kind and radiant person, I’m so grateful I got to have him as a teacher and I’m incredibly sad that he’s gone.

  19. Steve Prosser inspired me as a pianist, a singer, a composer, a boss, and a friend. There are so many complex feelings and issues that arise when contemplating his passing, feelings and issues that I and my colleagues will spend the next few months discussing and working through.

    Steve hired me, and by doing so had faith in my abilities, more than even I had, information he gleaned mainly from hearing me play and having a musical discussion or two with me. His mentorship (if you read his faculty bio, he talks about Socratic method), which consisted mainly of asking me pertinent questions and hipping me to great music, made me a better teacher.

    I used to love to debate politics with Steve. We differed on some points, agreed on others, but I always learned something. I even contemplated going to Law School, just so I could fare better in an argument with Steve over constitutional law, but that is not enough of a reason to go to Law School, to check off the box “to win an argument with Stevo.”

    The overwhelming sadness sets in when I think about what we have lost, how this might have been prevented. He and I even debated this issue, after the Virginia Tech shootings, and should they be a call for more gun control (I thought yes, he thought no, and offered compelling evidence, which I would accept from few others). How much is too much to intervene when friends deal with health issues? Is the culture of higher education sometimes so toxic that good, inspiring, brilliant mentors become crestfallen when their efforts to advocate for faculty and curriculum are thwarted? Steve was not perfect, and none of us are, but sometimes I feel (I have said it in private, and will say it again in public) that the battles and indignities he suffered as he fought for his educational and artistic vision eventually took their toll on him.

    I always think of Steve when I hear the quote “The Man who feels cries when he ponders existence, but the thinking man laughs.” Steve LOVED debate even more than he loved being right. He told me he loved to read Ann Coulter’s daily column as much as Rachel Maddow’s. Seriously. Steve was a great thinker, but also felt emotions deeply. Perhaps (even contrary to what Steve might advise me) we should try to use his passing as some kind of wake-up call, to increase the level of civility we use with one another, to treasure each other in the musical and intellectual communities, even as we disagree with one another, and to put aside our differences to remember what our common goals are.

  20. Donna McElroy

    Oh, what a wondrous star has risen to the sky
    I couldn’t find a better friend, so I won’t even try
    His spirit, drive and musicality
    Was inspiring, to say the least, for me
    I came here hearing things I couldn’t name
    He lit in me an Ear Training Flame!
    It was Steve who urged me to learn
    What I truly already knew, and start to burn
    A fire of 9ths, 11ths, augs and dims
    I am a wiser singer ’cause of him!

    Sweet as a chess pie was this lovely musical man, and I will miss him SOOOOO much!!!
    Love you ALWAYS, Steve!!

    Donna

  21. Greg Mooter

    He still called me Igg.
    He remembered my wife’s name after not seeing her for 20 years while laying in the hospital just after his accident.
    His smile filled even the largest of rooms.
    There were so many sides to Steve any one person could not find them all.
    He was an excellent singer, writer, arranger, and softball player.
    I’ll miss you, my friend, hold a spot for me!
    …Igg

  22. Gaye Tolan Hatfield

    I honestly don’t know where to begin to describe my friendship with Steve…over 30 years! He was my jazz choir director (rehearsals at 7am on Fridays) when I was a Berklee student. The ex-husband of one of my dearest friends, Kris Adams. My mentor and role model in the Ear Training department, and my boss. He taught me how to teach Performance Ear Training for Voice and helped me become a much more effective teacher overall.
    Most of all, Steve was a wonderful friend. He had a big heart of gold that he shared so unselfishly. So supportive and warm and wise. My husband and son, Paul, also were recipients of his support, kindness, intelligence and friendship over the years.
    My son and his roomate John were in Steve’s ET class a couple of years back. I’ll never forget seeing a ziploc bag of homemade meatballs and gravy sitting in Steve’s teaching satchel…a gift from John and his Mom.
    I miss Steve terribly, especially the vibrant and more healthy Steve that I knew and loved for so many years.
    Rest now, Steve.
    Gaye

  23. Caris Visentin Liebman

    In our lives, there will always be people who will hold a special place, for all they have given- their example, support, wisdom, friendship, kindness, respect etc. Recently, I found out that one of those special people, Steve Prosser, passed away. I was in one of Steve’s first Berklee Ear Training classes back in 1979. It didn’t come easy and I worked very hard to do well in ET, but Steve was able to see my potential and he was always a source of encouragement and support. By having a teacher like him, it taught me how to be that kind of teacher to my own students. I learned not only ET from him, but I learned the true meaning of being a mentor and a teacher and the responsibility that holds. We have always been in touch since those Berkee days, always answering my questions as a musician and teacher. I introduced him to my husband David as well, they became friends and he has known my daughter, Lydia since she was born. He and I would talk ET concepts and he’d set her up with headphones at his keyboard in his office while we worked. Later he became her teacher at Berklee. I am so grateful she took my advice and studied with the master of all masters! As far as being a teacher and musician, Steve was “top shelf” all the way. No one could make a point or lay out a concept or idea about music like he could. He was brilliant (a lawyer as well) and he had a unique way that made him relate to people very special, whether as a teacher or a friend. One thing I am so happy about is the fact that the last book he wrote, Intervallic Ear Training for Musicians, did get published by a company I distribute for. His concepts and ideas needed to be documented and I feel like had this not been accomplished, it would have been a great loss. So I am glad that he had the strength and determination to complete it. Steve, you will be so missed by me, David and Lydia. You were a true inspiration and friend of this family. A true friend to the point, where in the midst of your own health issues, you assured David and me that Lydia, new to Boston at the time, could call you if she was in need of anything especially if there was ever an emergency. That was you, Steve. A person who sincerely gave care and comfort to others. I thank you for believing in me always and instilling in me by example what it means to be a performer, teacher and overall human being. Steve, RIP and may your lowest note always remain with you. Big hug and love from all the Liebmans.

  24. Ali Amr

    I will miss him so much… I love him dearly…
    He is the best teacher I ever had through my Berklee experience.

    May your soul rest in peace until we all meet you again…

    Ali

  25. Alex

    RIP! With all due respect to Steve Prosser and his students, where’s the memorial thought(s) out to legendary Jazz musician and former student at Berklee, tenor David S Ware, who passed away very recently of kidney failure? If it happened and I missed it, I apologize, but this newsletter was received on 10/22 with enough time I think to take note of it to all of you.

  26. I just read about Steve’s passing. I studied at Berklee in the mid 80’s and took several classes with Steve. He was a GREAT teacher and I still think of him when I’m doing or teaching some ear training excercises. All my love from Spain. Rest in peace.

  27. I had Steve for a rhythmic dictation class he was wonderful, kind and always smiling. Such an amazing talent I loved his performances with Bob Stoloff. Steve was a gifted musician and a special teacher and human being. My prayers go out to him and his family at this time.

  28. Caleb Morgan

    I met Steve when we started Berklee as students in…1977, I think. Gary Kelly, a bass-player, Steve, and I used to drive back and forth between Pennsylvania and Boston.

    My inner world is an accretion of the powerful people I’ve known, and Steve made more of an impression on my in the the three our four years we were close than anyone else.

    Steve’s funny little phrases from that time have become part of my vocabulary: “You’re dirt!” “Shut up, please.” And some I won’t mention.

    He had a funky apartment on Gainsborough St. that he shared with his dog Molly. We’d listen to Tony Bennett, Singers Unlimited, Ives, Bartok, and Wild Man Fischer.

    “Merry go, merry go, merry go ’round.”

    The Gainsborough building housed a bizarrely made-up prostitute who carried herself at such a strange angle that she looked like a marionette.

    The apartment unit right next to Steve’s place burned up, and everything smelled like burned wood, creosote, maybe.

    Steve — much better than I — was able to appreciate the best qualities of his teachers, and create a good working relationship with them — John Bavicchi, and Jeronimas Kacinskas in composition, and everyone else he studied with.

    He had the political gene — his father was mayor of Altoona — but he also was a very private, quirky person.

    He loved even the basics of music theory. On our car-rides to Pa., we used to play an ear-training game solfeging a progressively longer and longer string of notes.

    Sometimes we might smoke the occasional bowl on one of those car-rides, but Steve — same as most the Berklee kids I knew — was working too hard, too focused, to party much.

    The last time we got together, he tried his approach at career advice with me. What is it that you really love doing?

    And we talked about some of other loves in our lives.

  29. Caleb Morgan

    I knew Steve since our days together as Berklee students starting in the late 70’s.

    He was one of the most interesting people I’ve known, and I carry his memory with me.

    We used to listen to Bartok, Ives, Singers Unlimited, and Wild Man Fischer.

    I learned a lot from Steve.

  30. Mark Prosser

    I’d like to thank all of you for your kind and thoughtful comments about Steve. I know that there are many folks who loved, respected, and appreciated Steve who are still struggling to find the words to express their thoughts and feelings of loss and sadness at his unexpected passing.
    I know that amidst the shock and grief that we feel, he would want us to recall some of the silly and hilarious memories that made having a relationship with Steve such a blessing. Thanks to all of you for your kindness and support. Mark Prosser

  31. Robert Bloodworth

    I had Steve as my Performance Ear Training teacher back in 1990 & 1991, or rather… “he had me.” I made very good grades at Berklee, but not in his class. He would not tolerate mediocrity, and had high expectations of me, much higher than I had for myself. In essence, he taught (or retaught me) pitch. He is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had in my life, and knew A LOT about a lot things (he even advised me via Facebook how to take care of my ailing back a couple of years ago – AND IT WORKED!!). LOL.

    Along with you all, I am missing him.

    Shalom, my Friend.

  32. Bertram Lehmann

    Steve was my first-semester Harmony 2 teacher back in 1989, and it was a trip! I remember being somewhat overwhelmed by his energetic and engaging teaching style, probably also partly due a 9am class time, where he fired off analytical streams of “II – V7s of V7s of Vs of V7s of Is …. ” to make anyone’s head spin.
    Years later, as ET Dept. chair, he showed unwavering trust and support in allowing me to shape my own World Music Ear Training class and also bestowing a section of the classic Rhythmic Ear Training course on me, soon thereafter.
    He was the kindest person, with an always-open-door policy who was highly interested each faculty’s success, and helping them to do the best job possible. We had many a chat in is office about all aspects of music, and how to provide the most interesting, hip, and meaningful learning experiences for the students.
    His outgoing, engaging personality will forever be in my heart.

  33. Peter A

    I took two advanced ear training courses with Steve at Berklee and after experiencing more than 7 years worth of music school curriculum, Steve is absolutely at the top of my list of most inspiring professors. A person could learn a semesters worth of knowledge just by talking to him for a few minutes. I remember he told me that he wrote out a tune every day while he ate lunch. That always amazed me for some reason. No doubt he’s directing the jazz choir of angels up there. Love you Steve.

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