Meet Berklee's New Presidential Scholars

By 
Berklee Media Relations
October 8, 2010
2010 Presidential Scholars from left to right: Dusan Vukmirovic, Naseem Alatrash, Edmar Gierbolini, Clifton Williams, Judy Shin, and Anna Lee. John Egizi is not pictured because he was performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival when these photographs were taken.
Cellist Naseem Alatrash
Saxophonist Edmar Gierbolini
Vocalist Anna Lee
Pianist Judy Shin
Saxophonist Dusan Vukmirovic
Pianist Clifton Williams
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Seven first-semester students have been awarded the Berklee College of Music Presidential Scholarship, a grant established to bring the world's best young musicians to study at Berklee at no cost to them or their families. Presidential Scholars attend Berklee for four years with all tuition, housing, and fees provided. While such awards are not unknown for student athletes, this program is one-of-a-kind at a music college.

Naseem Alatrash, from Beit Sahour, West Bank, had his first cello lesson at 12 at the Edward Said National Conservatory in Bethlehem. Developing his skill quickly, he joined the Palestinian Youth Orchestra, and was promoted to principal cellist for a tour of the Middle East. More opportunities followed, including performances with the Maqamat Conservatory's Arabic Music Ensemble. In 2006 and 2008, Alatrash won first prize in the Marcel Khalifé Music Competition honoring young Palestinian musicians. After high school, he took lessons at the Lübeck Conservatory of Music in Germany. He attended several workshops at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and also with renowned cellist Alexander Suleiman. He recently became a member of the Palestinian National Orchestra. Alatrash is considering pursuing a double major in performance and music production and engineering at Berklee. His musical interests lie in classical and Middle Eastern music. Upon graduation, he envisions himself returning to the Palestinian territories, teaching cello, and playing in bands and orchestras.

Trombonist John Egizi is a Ventura, California native. Egizi started playing guitar in a rock band at 10. He picked up the trombone at 11 without realizing that his family had been playing the instrument for generations. After his father introduced him to jazz by playing Michael Brecker, Egizi became obsessed with the genre and the idea of reinventing the trombone. While in high school, Egizi won soloist awards at the Berklee High School Jazz Festival, the Reno Jazz Festival, and the Next Generation Jazz Festival, and played in the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra and the Thelonious Monk All-Star High School Jazz Septet. He has performed at the Monterey, North Sea, and Playboy jazz festivals, and at the White House with Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, and Maceo Parker. Egizi also plays bass, composes jazz music, and produces hip-hop tracks. His diverse influences include Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, J Dilla, Madlib, and D'Angelo. To get a top-notch music education, Egizi commuted two-and-a-half hours each way to attend L.A. County High School for the Arts. Egizi plans to major in performance and is also interested in composition and music production.

Edmar Gierbolini, 17, began playing the saxophone at 13 at the School for Fine Arts in Coamo, Puerto Rico. Gierbolini was a rapid learner and taught himself to play in the jazz style and began composing and arranging music in addition to his traditional music lessons. The Jose F. Zayas High School graduate played with a variety of local bands and orchestras, and arranged music for many of these groups. Gierbolini was awarded a full scholarship to attend Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program, where he was selected to participate in the Summer Jazz Workshop with Terri Lyne Carrington and Rick DiMuzio. Gierbolini has toured with his band, Rodney Roques and the Jazz Full Riders, at venues in Florida, Califonia, and recently in Boston at the Berklee High School Jazz Festival. Gierbolini hopes to study film scoring, and he aspires to write music for movies and events.

Anna Lee, a graduate of East Brunswick High School, New Jersey, loves being a musician because singing acts as her outlet when she's feeling sad, upset or angry. Lee enjoys sharing this outlet with others and hopes to influence audiences in a positive way through music. Lee is an active volunteer and was awarded the President's Volunteer Service Award for her work with America Wheat Mission, an organization that seeks to improve living conditions for people with disabilities and to educate the public about people living with disabilities.

Pianist Judy Shin of Glenview, Illinois, was born in South Korea. She started learning classical piano at 4 and progressed to receiving awards in citywide and national competitions in Korea. At 16, she moved to the United States and discovered jazz. She played piano in jazz and wind ensembles at the New Trier Township High School. Berklee alumna Hiromi is one of her main influences. In her junior year, Shin transcribed Hiromi's tune "The Tom and Jerry Show" and performed a piano/bass duet of it at a New Trier jazz concert. Shin chose Berklee for its broad range of music, performance, and learning opportunities, citing composition and production as two areas she's eager to explore. She intends to major in contemporary writing and music production and engineering, but is also considering performance and composition.

Dusan Vukmirovic was born in Apatin, Serbia. As a boy, he explored all kinds of instruments, playing tenor sax, double bass, drums, and piano. When he was 6, he started learning classical alto saxophone in a primary school. It was at the performing arts high school Stankovic, in Belgrade, where he first played jazz. Professional gigs followed. By the time he was 15, Vukmirovic was gigging with jazz, rock, free music, folk, and r&b bands. He also took his music to the streets to earn money for his and his father's living expenses. Vukmirovic's influences include Art Tatum and Ben Webster, jazz from its earliest form to the most modern versions, and 20th-century classical, rock, and folk music. Buddhism and philosophy also shape the music he writes. Attending Berklee wasn't a calculated plan for Vukmirovic. When he heard about the audition in Serbia last year, he attended for fun and curiosity. He doesn't take for granted the gift he walked away with, of a fully funded education: Vukmirovic will use his music to rally awareness and resolution of the worldwide hunger epidemic.

Pianist Clifton Williams is a Washington DC native and graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. The pianist at Williams's church introduced him to music and became his first piano teacher. In addition to classical music, which he started studying at 14, Williams is equally at home with gospel and jazz, and enjoys singing. In 2008, he won the District of Columbia Public Schools Piano Competition, and in 2009, he was a winner of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, a $30,000 grant for high-achieving, low-income musicians. Williams has performed on NPR's From the Top, at the White House, and at the Kennedy Center. He has accompanied multiple choirs, including the Friendship Public Charter School Choir, and sang in the DC Honors Chorus. He was highly sought after by musicians at the Ellington School for his piano accompaniment skills. At Berklee, Williams plans to dual-major in contemporary writing and production and music education.

Presidential Scholarships were first awarded to students attending in the fall of 2005, and more are presented annually. There are currently 26 Presidential Scholars studying at Berklee. The college's board of trustees believes so deeply in the initiative that it approved $1.5 million of the college's endowment to fund the program.