Musician at Berklee, athlete at Emerson

by Tommy McArdle / Beacon Correspondent • April 12, 2017

Austin Max attends Berklee, but plays at Emerson.
Austin Max attends Berklee, but plays at Emerson.

Austin Max wakes up at 9 a.m. on a Friday and makes his way to the Berklee College of Music campus. By late afternoon he’s done with class, so he heads to Rotch Playground and Field for lacrosse practice with his Emerson College teammates. After team dinner, he rushes to his apartment in Roxbury for a quick shower. Soon after that, friends begin to arrive for the acoustic concert Max and his roommates organize every week. After midnight, Max falls into bed, with Saturday’s Lions game on his mind.  

Max is a student-athlete who, due to Emerson’s association with the Professional Arts Consortium, can play for one of Emerson’s athletic teams despite his Berklee enrollment. ProArts is an association of seven Boston institutions—including Emerson and Berklee—devoted to visual and performing arts that share school resources with each other. The consortium is mainly used for cross-registration of classes between schools, but students can also use it to don the purple and gold Lions jerseys.

Berklee has no varsity athletics of its own, so Max inquired about playing for Emerson with then-men’s lacrosse coach Dan Gold the summer before his freshman year, and was offered a spot on the team. Max said he only started playing lacrosse as a junior in high school in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I was playing baseball and golf in high school,” Max said. “By my junior year I was set on applying to some super difficult colleges, and my grades weren’t all the way there, so I wanted to add more extra curriculars, and a friend told me to try out for the lacrosse team. I’d never played lacrosse, but I definitely wanted to try.”

Max said he intended to join his high school lacrosse team on offense, but before his first game, his coach asked him to try playing goalkeeper. Max said he found immediate success at that position and intended to continue at goalkeeper in college, until he discovered he was one of four goalies on Emerson’s roster.

“I didn’t want to ride the bench for four years of split halves,” Max said. “So over that summer I worked out with my teammates and got in shape to start playing offense going into my sophomore season.”

Max said his passion for music came through his father, a lifelong musician himself who introduced him to the Beatles, Eric Clapton, and blues guitar at a young age. Max described his dad’s style of music as leaning towards singer-songwriter.

“My dad wasn’t ever really school trained in music, but he had a good ear and he taught me what he could,” Max said. “In high school he encouraged me to take lessons. At one point, my guitar teacher was super strict and I told my dad, ‘No, I want to quit, I don’t like him,’ but my dad really encouraged me to stay and I’m so happy he did.”

The ProArts connection that allows Max to play lacrosse at Emerson has benefited him off the field, too. Rather than becoming an outsider on his own team, a Berklee student among Emerson students, Max said he embraces opportunities where his interests off the field collide with his teammates’ interests. 

“I’ve actually done projects with past and current teammates,” Max said. “They’re pros at video, we’re pros at music. I shot one music video with some of my former teammates. This beautiful project that we did together came from playing lacrosse.”

The music video features Max’s band The Max Tribe performing their song “Sweet Reality” on a Back Bay rooftop at sunset. Max said the project was a collaboration between his band and then-teammates Jack Bushell and Diego Felipe Rosende.

“I went to Jack, who I knew did great work,” Max said. “We always talked about doing a video in the locker room.”

Max wanted to do a video inspired by the Beatles’ well-known 1969 Let It Be rooftop concert. The concept piqued Bushell’s interest.

“That sounded appealing to me as a filmmaker,” Bushell said. “So we started doing some research together and looked at past live music videos. A lot of it was us sitting down and figuring out how this would all work.”

To achieve the sunset backdrop, Max said there was only a 30-minute window for filming. He said organizing the video required a full day’s effort, since they needed to carry the band’s instruments and the crew’s film equipment up four flights of stairs, up a fire escape, and onto the building’s roof. As crew members and performers organized, a friend graffitied the band’s name and logo onto a wall behind him.

“It was great networking and great connections that I’ll be able to work on past lacrosse and past college with these kids,” Max said. “It would not have been possible if I didn’t meet Jack on the lacrosse team at Emerson.”

Max said his commitment to both athletics and music makes him unique at Berklee, a school that offers little for athletes.

“I don’t go around Berklee’s campus wearing my jersey, but I have gotten some funny reactions,” Max said. “There’s definitely a small sports culture there of people who are fans or who have played, so I’ll let them know how my games go or how my season is going.”

Max’s close friend and teammate, Jack Markwordt, is another senior on the men’s lacrosse team who attends Berklee. He, unlike Max, did not intend on playing lacrosse in college. He said he even skipped out on his final two high school lacrosse seasons to focus on music.

Markwordt, a music production and engineering major, said he approached Gold at a booth for lacrosse at a Berklee orientation event. He said he initially thought it was for a Berklee club team, not a Division III program.

Markwordt agreed with Max that sometimes being a student-athlete-musician at Berklee can be odd.

“It’s funny because in high school I was the lacrosse kid playing music, and when I got to Berklee I was the music kid playing lacrosse,” said Markwordt. “You get a lot of weird looks when you have a lacrosse stick instead of a guitar at Berklee.”

Max said he wishes ProArts would do more to promote its athletic association with Emerson. Though there likely aren’t many would-be athletes at schools like Berklee, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, or the New England Conservatory, any additions would be welcome to Emerson’s athletic teams. Men’s lacrosse, for example, still has only 16 players on its roster.

“One year our coach asked me and my other Berklee teammate to come to a club sign-up fair at Berklee during our orientation week, and we were the only Emerson team there,” Max said. “They don’t do a big job of promoting that. I know there’s other Berklee athletes out there that just don’t know, don’t think they have the time, or don’t think it’s that serious. There’s not enough outreach going on.”