Berklee Welcomed in Quito

By 
Arnoldo Lopez
November 1, 2006
Professor Mark Wessel (center) at IMC.
Mark Wessel works with a student at IMC.
Jorge Balladares
Jorge Balladares

During the fall semester of 2006, Berklee made its first formal visit to its newly inducted Berklee International Network school partner in Quito, Ecuador—Instituto de Música Contemporánea Universidad San Francisco de Quito (IMC-USF). It was a true privilege to be part of the team of two students and five faculty members that conducted music clinics, live performances, and admission and scholarship auditions as well as to share our firsthand experiences at Berklee.

Berklee alumnus Esteban Molina, the institute's director, made us feel right at home. He and fellow Berklee alumni Diego Acosta and Gabriel Montufur, who are now running the music production and engineering programs at IMC, greeted the Berklee delegation with a brilliant meal prepared by the students and faculty of the school's culinary division. This made a wonderful first impression and filled us with a warmth and hospitality that would continue to be the trademark of the whole trip.

We learned how the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USF) holds a vast number of branches, including engineering, business management, literature, architecture, liberal arts, culinary studies, and music, all taught within the same campus. During the reception, we had the chance to meet most of the Music Department teachers. After talking about people's current professions and all kinds of music-related subjects, we were ready to begin the intense week ahead of us.

The Berklee faculty began right away with jazz performance clinics, horn section labs, an MP&E session, faculty performances, and vocal labs. On the first day, we immediately had the chance to step into assistant professor Mark Wessel's engineering clinic. Many students responded to the advertisement of the 9:00 a.m. start of the program that featured the recording of a local, traditional style and jazz fusion piece written by one of the Ecuadorian students attending the IMC. We knew the clinic would be a great learning experience when soon after Mark introduced himself to everyone in the studio, he said, "All right everybody, let me ask you a question. Who do you think is the most important person in this room right now?" After a few moments mumbling and looking around at each other, he explained to us that the artist is the person we should be listening to because a sense of comfort between the artist and producer/engineer is essential for a successful recording and mixing session.

The following days of the clinic included a detailed walk-through the process and essential recording and mixing techniques. Mark even let several students sit at the console and listen to the differences in sound as well as add or remove effects. Another session that I was part of was a vocal lab that was directed by Cathleen Elliott, a jazz composer and performer originally from New York and a vocal teacher at the college. She began the session with warm-ups and some sight-reading.

After some exercises, vocal techniques discussion, and blues improvisation, the session ended with a free vocal improvisation session singing over different rhythms and styles. The experience was great, and spurred many students to get information about my experiences at Berklee.

In the jazz performance clinic, IMC instrumentalists had the chance to perform and receive instruction from Berklee faculty members at school's beautiful main theater. Jim Odgren, Bob Tamagni, and Bob Schlink taught by stepping into the stage and talking to the students while performing their pieces for their second or third time. They even switched instruments with them to get their point across.

During the final day, we facilitated the audition event and answered questions about Berklee admissions and scholarships. It was another opportunity to speak with many students there and simply learn more about them and their culture. In addition to the musicians from USF, we also held auditions and interviews for musicians from Chile, Colombia, and Peru.

In the end, we made many good friends at the college, including students and faculty members who had previously graduated from Berklee. There were also several demos and exchanged emails with people who are either planning to attend Berklee in the future or who are interested in what we are doing musically. We hope to see them here, soon.