Berklee's Partners in Panama

By 
Jason Camelio
March 24, 2008
Award winner Juan Pablo Vargas, second from left, is surrounded by other award winners' family members and Berklee faculty and staff.
Photo by Rob Hayes

In recent years, the offices of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs have emphasized the desire for departments to engage collaboratively in efforts that bring wide-ranging benefits to the college. One of the most important mission-driven concepts is seeking ways for Berklee to better define its status as the global leader in contemporary music education by providing opportunity through music education. Ideally, we are all exploring paths to develop the internal and external ties that allow us to create dynamic educational opportunities for our extended community (students, alumni, faculty, and staff members) and to simultaneously foster and share in the development of our diverse and culturally rich environment.

The Panama Jazz Festival and Danilo Perez Foundation have presented Berklee and others with an ideal opportunity to affect positive change that directly impacts these lofty goals. Through the collaborative efforts of Music Production and Engineering (initially), International Programs, Admissions, Scholarships and Student Employment, and the Office of Public Information, Berklee has made a huge impact at this event and for its participants.

The Panama Jazz Festival week allows Berklee to engage in and explore a newer type of dynamic outreach and recruitment. The educational and experiential components of this event are being dictated by the needs of the contemporary music marketplace. Specifically, it is coming from the musicians seeking to have access to education and opportunities that Berklee provides to performers, writers, and technologists.

The Danilo Perez Foundation has developed an event format, which allows Berklee faculty members and students to gain musically and culturally from their exposure to the participants in the clinics, music studio and production facility visits, hands-on experiential learning, and concerts. It allows Berklee to have access to musicians from many countries in Central and South America, including Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and others. Berklee is able to present its wide range of expertise while providing young musicians the opportunity of auditioning for Berklee. This established foundation and world-class event are shaping up to also allow Berklee the chance to further explore the options of conducting more outreach and development in this region.

Music production and engineering faculty Rob Jaczko and Alex Rodriguez, Jim Odgren, academic assistant to the dean for the Performance Division, major gifts officer Mirek Vana, and I traveled to Panama this January to conduct auditions and interviews (A&I) and clinics. We were joined by Larry Simpson, senior vice president for academic affairs, and Rob Hayes, assistant vice president for public information. Berklee faculty members Dave Samuels and Oscar Stagnaro; and alumni Sara Serpa and Andres Matos from the New England Conservatory and Gordon Au and Vadim Nesolovsky form the Thelonius Monk Institute also participated as clinicians and performers.

Through the clinics and A&I, we were able to identify many talented musicians. These musicians are seeking it out and finding it where every they can. The foundation plays a huge role in supporting those young musicians in Panama. We were able award three Five-Week Summer Performance Program full-tuition scholarships to the top musicians from the auditions. These awards were given to violinist Joshue Ashby (Panama), percussionist Carlos Camacho (Panama), and trumpeter Juan Vorgas (Costa Rica).

In addition to clinics and auditions, there were many other excellent concerts and events being held in conjunction with the festival. In addition to the stellar performances by New England Conservatory and Thelonious Monk Institute, the festival was stacked with excellent headlining performers, including Dave Samuel's Caribbean Jazz Project, the Tia Fuller Quartet, the Kelly Johnson Quartet, Catherine Russell, and Stanley Jordan. The festival also provided a number of opportunities for local musicians to take the stage in various settings.

Some other highlights included a speech by Larry Simpson at the festival's gala event at the Teatro Nacional, an event held at the U.S. ambassador's home, and press conferences held by minister of culture (and Berklee honorary doctorate recipient) Rubén Blades, Major Juan Carlos Navarro of Panama City, and President Martín Torrijos. The president announced that a fund of $60,000 would be set-aside in the Panamanian government's budget to support the scholarship initiatives of the Danilo Perez Foundation for students to study in the United States.

Indeed, opportunity through contemporary music education has gained a significant foothold in Central America through the collaborative efforts of Berklee and the Panama Jazz Festival.