Colombian Kinship

By 
Cindy Albert Link

In February 2013, six members of the Berklee College of Music faculty and administration traveled to Colombia. They immersed themselves in a weeklong series of high-energy, well-attended master classes, audition and interview (A&I) sessions, meetings, and evening receptions. Building on a successful 2012 inaugural visit, this year’s team included Enrollment Vice President Mark Campbell, Enrollment Officer Billy Herron, Music Business Department Chair Don Gorder, International Programs Officer Sam Skau, Professor of Enrollment Carolyn Wilkins, and me. The enormous success of the visit would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of two dedicated alumni: Alejandro Cajiao ’05 and Mateo de los Rios ’05, leaders of Bogotá’s music school EMMAT.

With its rich traditions of music fueled by cultures as disparate as those of Europe, native America, and Africa, Colombia is a huge source of talent for Berklee; and as one of four countries of focus in Berklee’s comprehensive enrollment strategy, it is central to Berklee’s global outreach. Compared with the 1990s, Colombia today is seventh of 96 countries represented in the student body, with 41 undergraduates in Boston and two master’s degree candidates in Valencia, representing more than a 100 percent increase.

To generate awareness and elevate enthusiasm for Berklee’s A&I sessions, we worked with Cajiao and de los Rios to publicize the sessions. One of the most exciting highlights of this effort were master classes and a jam session at the William Shakespeare Theater, a wonderful venue provided by the Colegio Anglo Colombiano Bogotá for two consecutive years to Berklee faculty and aspiring student musicians. Our publicity efforts were quite successful, resulting in the addition of a fourth A&I day to accommodate 106 talented prospective singers, guitarists, bassists, pianists, trumpeters, and more. As we go to press, it is too early to tell how many students will be accepted and then attend Berklee, but we anticipate that admissions will be better than or at the global average of approximately 34 percent accepted.

Connections and Opportunities

Last year, U.S. Ambassador P. Michael McKinley hosted a welcome reception at the elegant U.S. Embassy residence for the Berklee team and more than 200 guests—leaders representing Colombian corporations, arts and cultural organizations, government and agencies. Ambassador McKinley helped pave the way for future collaborations as part of President Barack Obama’s “100,000 Strong in the Americas” initiative, which aims to foster region-wide prosperity in Latin America through greater international exchange of students. It was a wonderful evening of music and conversation, fostering connections that led to encouraging meetings when we returned this year.

As Berklee’s highly successful A&I sessions reveal, Colombia is a treasure trove of musical talent. We were eager to identify possible sources of scholarship support to help the most talented students who might otherwise not be able to attend Berklee. In addition, following up on last year’s conversations during the embassy reception and other meetings, we hoped to explore possible opportunities for Berklee faculty and students from the Music Therapy Department to help some of Colombia’s most destitute. Finally, we are grateful to our alumni ambassadors on the ground, Cajiao and de los Rios, for their introductions to other leaders and organizations. What follows are highlights from just two of the many promising conversations we had this year.

Colfuturo Scholarship/Loan Program

Established in 1991 with $12.1 million from individuals, corporations, foundations and the government, Colfuturo aims to furnish much-needed funds for students to obtain master’s degrees in any field. Students must apply and be admitted into a master’s degree program, and then apply to Colfuturo for a loan of up to $25,000 per year for up to two years ($50,000 total). If students return to Colombia after receiving their degrees, Colfuturo will forgive half the loan. Executive Director, Jerónimo Castro Jaramillo and Academic Advising and International Relations Coordinator, Diana Lucia Patiño Donoso, enthusiastically embraced Berklee’s one-year master’s degree programs in Valencia, focusing in particular on Scoring in Film, Television, and Video Gaming. They informed us that the Asociación Colombiana de Artes y Ciencias Cinematográficas would repay the remaining half of the loan for film scoring master’s degree recipients. We were grateful to Jim Russo and Diana Cartagena of the US Embassy for joining us at this meeting. As we go to press, Billy Herron is working with Maria Martinez Iturriaga, director of Berklee Valencia Enrollment and International Career Center to prepare for Colfuturo’s next student information session.

Agency for Reintegration (Agencia Colombiana para la Reintegración)

With nearly 100,000 demobilized individuals formerly of paramilitary and guerrilla groups, Colombia’s Agency for Reintegration (ACR) works to rehabilitate and reintegrate these men and women into Colombian society. ACR reports that many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and need psychological therapy. ACR has discovered that, on average, rehabilitation candidates require two years of psychiatric care unless a program pairs psychiatry with yoga and music therapy, which can reduce rehabilitation time from 24 months to six months. ACR and Berklee’s Music Therapy department are currently exploring possibilities for further enhancing ACR’s excellent music therapy program.

As the Berklee team boarded the plane to return to Boston, we reflected on a week of inspiring and promising young talent. We left with the conviction that Colombia will play a part as Berklee shapes the future of education and music.