Student Profile: Emily Elbert
Two years ago I decided I had to be a student at Berklee College of Music. I'd done my research, and thankfully, after doing some volunteer work in the Northeast, I saw a window of opportunity. I made it to the final night of the Vineyard Vibes concert series—featuring Berklee's fine gospel ensemble. I was floored. The music set me on fire.
After the show I met [Berklee President] Mr. Roger Brown, who introduced me to some students. Each conversation drove the idea further into my brain—Berklee was the place for me. I knew it. At the same time, though, I knew there was no way I could afford it. But I wouldn't be discouraged.
I met with Jason Camelio [now the associate director for international auditions] in the scholarship office. I told him about my situation, and asked how I could make it work. Jason named a bunch of different options—career moves to make, contests to enter, connections to establish. I took note of them all. I was 16 years old, with no money, just some songs I wrote on a cheap burned CD.
But my dreams were within reach.
I returned home to Dallas inspired, with direction and purpose, and a newfound sense of momentum. I put my music online, and I started performing. I practiced my butt off and put my mind in constant absorption mode. I found out about the Five-Week Summer Performance Program, and brought the idea to my parents. They wanted me to be able to go as much as I did, but there was still no money. I was crushed.
And then the next day, I had a realization. It came to me in the same place that so many great realizations do—in the shower. I knew I needed to step up my game—big time. I would book gigs, enough to earn the money to make an album. Then I would sell enough CDs to pay for Five-Week. $6,000 bucks. Once again, I was determined. I started getting work wherever I could. Festivals, benefits, coffeehouses, dirty dives, hotels. Anything.
Finally, I had the cash. I spent three 14-hour days in Tyler, Texas and created my debut CD. I was ecstatic! Now, all I needed was $6,000. Oh man. I worked harder on that music stuff than I did in all those years of high school, combined.
And I made it. In two months, I was in Boston, having the time of my life. I was immersed in music, I loved my teachers, my classes were stimulating. I was learning and improving. The kids I met were killer musicians, and we played our hearts out. Performing at the BPC with the performing songwriter competition, vocal jazz ensemble, and Bob Marley ensemble was a peak experience. I was on a musical high.
I never stopped pushing myself, though. Even when I got home. And as I was getting better, my gigs were getting cooler. More people were listening, and I kept having to reorder boxes of CDs. The media started tuning in, too. TV, radio, newspapers—all told of the little girl musician with a dream. And that was me!
I was on top of the world, and working as hard as ever. By the time my final scholarship audition rolled around, I was ready. I had totally completed my Berklee to-do list from the year before, and taken it even farther.
Two years ago, Berklee was a pipe dream. Today, at 18, I'm a third-generation professional musician who played more than 50 gigs during my senior year of high school, from Alaska to New York City.
I even got to go to the Grammys as a member of the 2007 Gibson/Baldwin Grammy Jazz Ensemble, where I was blessed enough to meet legendaries such as Ornette Coleman, and work with folks like James Moody. During Grammy week, the world's best music schools pitched their programs to us. Though I was sold on Berklee, I told myself I'd keep an open mind, just for virtue's sake.
Each of the other schools were super impressive. But none right for me. I knew then, just as I know now, that Berklee's where it's at.
It's my dream school. Heck, my only fear is that I won't be able to be a part of every single class and ensemble and late-night jam session that I want to. But I'm sure that my spirit will find nourishment in its new home up North, and that with the help of my school, I'll find the path that is perfect for me.
Just by working to get here, I've evolved worlds as a musician, and a person. I can only imagine what is to come.
Thank you so much for having me here. I can't wait to learn from you.
Emily's Top Five Most Admirable Music Careers
- Paul Simon
- Stevie Wonder
- Joni Mitchell
- The Beatles