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Berklee in Umbria Program Marks 25 Years


In many respects, little has changed between this summer's 25th anniversary session of the Berklee Summer School at Umbria Jazz Clinics in Italy and my first visit to Perugia 15 years ago. The program's physical site has moved four times since its original location in the city's music conservatory, where air conditioning is nonexistent and numerous sonic conflicts sent some classes into unused churches. The 2010 home for the clinic was the Ariodante Fabretti Elementary School, which boasted a spectacular view of the Umbrian countryside, loads of classroom space, and some familiar problems.

"No air conditioning here, either," recalls Professor of Guitar Jim Kelly, who has been a clinic guitar instructor for most of the program's life. "And like every one of the three other schools we've used in the recent past, we have those little wooden desks with a writing-surface arm. Not the ideal seat for playing an instrument."

Other than these challenges, however, this year's 250 students had few complaints about the program. Roughly a third came from countries other than Italy for the intense 12-day program. With three sessions of instrumental and vocal instruction and theory in the morning, plus a pair for ensembles and the gospel choir each afternoon, students were immersed in music six hours a day, six days a week. Most hung around and jammed until sunset on the outdoor stage that hosted master classes from visiting artists, including Giovanni Hidalgo and Horacio "el Negro" Hernandez as well as the student recitals at session's end.

According to Berklee Assistant Director of Admissions Gojko Damjanic, half the students attend the program in hopes of securing one of three dozen awards, which this year included 11 partial Berklee scholarships and five full scholarships to the Five-Week Summer Performance Program. They don't have to look far for inspiration; several of the interpreters assigned to program faculty members are Berklee alumni. Some, like Stefania Rava, a vocalist who interpreted this year for Professor Donna McElroy, got their start in Perugia.

"I've been at the Umbria school for 16 years," Rava explains, "as a student in 1987 and '89 and then, after graduating from Berklee, as an interpreter. Coming here was like heaven. You're among musicians all day, then you hear the masters at night."

Trumpeter David Boato, for example, won a Berklee scholarship in 1988 and has interpreted since 1992. He runs a small school in his hometown of Mogliano and is proud that 10 of his students have won Berklee scholarships.

On the final morning of the program, there was excitement surrounding the announcement of the awards. "The people here display no envy," notes vocalist Alessandra Bosco, who won an $8,000 scholarship. "Everyone only wants to do their best." Bosco plans to attend Berklee next year.

Eamon Dilworth, who won a $12,000 scholarship, turned heads with his impressive trumpet solos. While in London the Australian native saw an ad for the clinic in Perugia. "Studying at Berklee is a farfetched idea for Australians," he admits. "The scholarship alone is not enough to cover a year of study at an American college, but it gives me a great foundation when I audition for supplemental funds."

Dilworth hopes to join such alumni as alto saxophonist Rosario Giuliani (who headlined his own Umbria Jazz concert this summer), bassist Matthew Garrison '92, vocalist Chiara Civello '98, and pianist Salvatore Bonafede '89 in making bigger jazz-world connections.