Teacher Feature: Billy Kerr

by Cougar News Staff 423 views1

By Scottie Gerbacia – Cougar News Contributor

Billy Kerr is a professional woodwind player, arranger, composer, and adjunct professor in the music department at College of the Canyons. Kerr is an adjunct professor at not only COC in Santa Clarita, but also teaches at Citrus College in Glendora, and Shepard University in Korea town.

For the past 6 years Kerr has taught applied music for upper winds, and popular songwriting at COC.

Kerr, who was born in Brooklyn, NY, decided at a young age that all he wanted to do in life was play music. He said, “I’ve been in music my whole life. I have never done anything else. I’ve been really lucky.”

Kerr started his career in New York playing in various jazz bands and orchestras. After high school, He spent a few years studying at Julliard School of Music but didn’t complete his bachelor’s degree there.
After his time at Julliard, Kerr went into the Air Force as a musician, during the height of the Vietnam War. In 1971, after spending four years in the service, Kerr went back to school and earned his bachelor’s degree from Queens College in New York.

For 20 years Kerr played on Broadway in various pit orchestras, as well as spending 18 years as a member of the world famous New York Saxophone Quartet.

After meeting his wife, who is also a saxophone player, the two spent five years in Canada before finally moving to California in 2000. It was here that Kerr finally got his master’s degree. He said, “that is what brought us out here. I started my master’s in 2000, and finally got it in 2002.”

Kerr thinks that students go into music not prepared. He said, “One of the things that I think that students in general need to do is know what they want to do.” He feels that students should figure out what kind of music, or aspect of music they are into first. He said, “If you want to play, you have to study. You have to practice. If you want to write it’s the same thing.”

The ability to hear is what Kerr feels is the number one things students need to do, in order to truly understand music. He said, “I’m not talking about having good hearing in terms of an audio exam, but really being able to discern what you are hearing in terms of pitch and what the pitches are. What kind of music is it? What does the music sound like? I think that people are not focused on that.”

Music is a skill that takes a lot of time, work, and dedication, in order to be good at it. Kerr said, “I don’t think that students understand how much work it is to become good at this, and maybe it is going to pay off, and maybe it’s not.”

Hopefully the current generation of musicians can gain some insight from what Kerr has had to say. He has put his whole life into music and has proven that it takes a lot of hard work to pay off. Whether an individual wants to just learn a song, or wants to make a full career out of being a musician, they should try to learn as much as possible. It will only pay off in the end.

  • James

    Cool article. I’m actually interested in taking a music class here—jazz, probably.