Student Spotlight: Taijee Shavers

The baritone saxophonist explains how time in nature improves his sound design work, shouts out his Black Scholars Initiative mentor, and digs into a Doja Cat sample.

March 6, 2023

What’s it like to study at Berklee? Our Student Spotlight series asks current students all about their Berklee experience—what they’re learning in class, what kinds of projects they’re involved in onstage or behind the scenes, how they recharge, and of course, what they’re listening to. This week, get to know Taijee Shavers, a ninth-semester baritone saxophone player from Oakland, California, pursuing a double major in composition and electronic production and design (EPD), with a specialization in sound design for video games and a minor in creative coding.

young person playing a baritone saxophone

Taijee Shavers

Tell us about your path to Berklee. What made you decide to come here?

All I knew when I was in high school was that I wanted to study music. I did a lot of research on amazing programs, and Berklee happened to show up in a lot of instances. My top three schools at that point were Berklee, Boston Conservatory, and Peabody Conservatory. I also knew that I wanted to further develop my craft in composition (since I was just starting out), and I wanted to pick up something new along the way. What attracted me to Berklee more was the fIlm scoring program as well. I started getting more interested in film scores and soundtracks for video games along the way. When I had my interview for Boston Conservatory, a friend of mine gave me a tour of Berklee afterwards. In this tour, I got to see all the studios, classrooms and recreational areas that Berklee had, even the residential halls. This made me feel like I was at home, that Berklee was the right place for me.

What's been your favorite class so far, and what has it taught you?

My favorite class definitely has to be the Sound Design for Film Practicum, taught by Michele Darling. I love this class because it really helped me to improve my skills as a sound designer and mixer exponentially. From all the critique sessions to the wonderful collaborations we had amongst different departments (screen scoring and MP&E [music production and engineering]), I had a really amazing time putting myself in this position to learn more about this aspect of the film industry. In the class, one of the main projects is to collaborate with a filmmaker from Columbia University, and create/mix together the sound effects (SFX) for their in-progress film. I would definitely say that this was a life-changing experience for me, being able to adapt to this environment and actually learn from a student filmmaker about these collaborative skills amongst different projects. This course also taught me to really appreciate the different aspects of nature and the environment around us, as we take from these inspirations and create a new world of our own.

What's a project you've worked on since coming to Berklee that you've been especially excited about?

Not necessarily a project, but I knew since coming here I wanted to find my voice. I didn’t really have much of an idea of what spoke to me when I was composing or performing, and I wanted to use that as my focus while I was here. Because of that, I am now starting to hone into my new sound, something that really speaks to me. Currently, I am working on my senior capstone project in EPD, where I am exploring a lot of the techniques I’ve learned through the composition and EPD departments. This project will culminate in an electroacoustic composition for dance, where I’ll be collaborating with multiple departments around the College and Conservatory to make this happen. More information on this to come soon!

How do you typically recharge or find new ideas outside of class?

For this I love taking breaks by going outside or exploring a familiar place from there. I normally tend to go somewhere like the docks or somewhere in the [Boston] Commons to really get that recharge. I’m honestly inspired by nature a lot so it helps to be able to situate myself in this environment to come up with new ideas as well. Sometimes, I like to leave my phone at home and try to “disconnect” for a little while, which I noticed has helped me feel more present and grounded. 

What careers are you interested in pursuing in the future?

There are a lot of different things I want to pursue! I really want to start my career doing sound design for multimedia. I started getting attracted to that once I started EPD, and I realized that this might be something I want to develop in the film and games industry. I think in this path I would like to focus more on the SFX creation and possibly implementation, but I’m always open to more ideas along the way. In terms of composition, I still want to develop a career in this as well. I love doing orchestration, for example, but I think I want my composition career to lie more into composing for dance, especially in the sense of electroacoustic composition.

When you think towards your own future, who inspires you most?

If I had to pin it down to one person who’s inspired me the most, I would say it has to be my BSI (Black Scholars Initiative) mentor, Jarritt Sheel. He was a really amazing person, and opened my eyes to a lot of what Berklee had to offer. He was there for me since my freshman year, always wanted to stay posted about my new music, and just gave me lots of resources to help me out along my path. He made me a lot more confident in myself and always reassured me that I had support, and that whatever I end up doing he would always be proud of me. I’m not sure if I would even be in this position without him.

What's one piece of advice you'd give to your high school self?

Stop stressing, everything’s going to be okay! My high school self was definitely a nervous wreck, especially by senior year because all he knew was that he wanted to go to college and make a better life for himself. I would honestly just say that he’s in the right place, and he’s going to get everything that he’s worked hard for. It’ll all pay off in the end!

Taijee's Top Five Artists

We asked Taijee to pick five songs from his favorite artists. Here's what he said:

1. “The Blacker the Berry,” Kendrick Lamar

This whole album is amazing (To Pimp a Butterfly), but this song in particular just hits deep in the soul for me.

2. “sweet and sour,” Amelia Moore

I love the electronic influence on this! I think the sample work and just the instrumentation is awesome.

3. “Venom,” Little Simz

This is where I started really thinking about blending acoustic instruments with electronic music. This track really embellishes that and I love the creativity on it.

4. “Clock In - Out,” Cleo Reed

Cleo is a recent graduate of Berklee (2021) and she was one of my main inspirations for wanting to do EPD. She is a really talented artist that I think everyone should know, but this song in particular really speaks to me, from the beat production to the violin sampling!

5. “Vegas,” Doja Cat

I love the blues influence on this song! I think the innovation of the samples and using Big Mama Thornton’s original song instead of Elvis’s is really cool as well; this whole track for me really shines a light on the history of Black American music.

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