Graduate Students Take Flight

Faculty, administrators, guests, and graduates gather for the fourth commencement celebration in Valencia, Spain. In the font row (from the left): Stephen Webber, Larry Simpson, María Martínez Iturriaga, Brian Cole, Emilio Aragón, and Alfons Conde.
Faculty, administrators, guests, and graduates gather for the fourth commencement celebration in Valencia, Spain. In the font row (from the left): Stephen Webber, Larry Simpson, María Martínez Iturriaga, Brian Cole, Emilio Aragón, and Alfons Conde.

On Friday, July 1, Berklee College of Music held the first master’s degree commencement for students completing graduate degrees at the Boston campus. Among the participants in the inaugural year of the Boston master’s degree program were 21 who received degrees in contemporary performance with a global jazz concentration, and two who received post-master’s fellowship certificates.

“You have helped us create this program, which I’m sure is going to have a long and productive life,” President Roger Brown told the graduates. “All the rules, skills, and techniques you have learned are not nearly as important as what you do with them. I encourage you to think of what you’ve learned here as important not only for your music, but for who you are as human beings. We cannot wait to see you enter the world and fulfill your destiny.”

Danilo Pérez, the artistic director for Berklee’s Global Jazz Institute, addressed the 23 graduates who hailed from 16 different countries. “I can’t believe that this year went so fast,” Pérez said. “The work isn’t finished, it’s just started. Take your degree and make good use of it. Remember to always strive to open the ears and minds of people, but most importantly, open their hearts.”

Following the conferral of degrees, three ensembles comprising most of the graduates played original extended jazz compositions that showcased the writing and improvisational prowess of group members. Notable in the Amber Ensemble (a sextet), were soloists Marta Roma (cello) and Jagoba Santos (flamenco guitar) performing an introspective work titled “War and Peace.” The Silver Ensemble played a mellow jazz composition with unpredictable chord changes deftly negotiated by soloists Isaac Wilson (piano), Paul-Eirik Melhaus (saxophone), and Eduardo Galeano Mercuri (electric guitar). The music played by the Purple Ensemble alternated free and up-tempo sections, with unaccompanied solo work by Jordanian-born violinist Layth Al-Rubaye and piquant lines played by trumpeter Mao Soné and tenor saxophonist Neta Raanan. The hourlong concert allowed the players and composers to show their family members and faculty mentors in the audience how far they have come musically over the course of the past year.

A week later, graduate students from the Berklee campus in Valencia, Spain, presented “La Nit de Berklee,” a spectacular concert presented on a floating stage opposite the iconic Hemisferic at Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia. The students offered a musically diverse program that included pop and jazz originals by the grads as well as covers of works by the Beatles, Boyz II Men, Lyle Mays, and Janelle Monáe. The entire city was invited to celebrate the work of the Berklee musicians.

On Monday July 11, 119 students from 30 countries from Europe to Asia to South America, gathered at the formal commencement exercises to receive their master’s degrees. “We are delighted to graduate our fourth class of master’s degree students,” stated María Martínez Iturriaga, the executive director for the Valencia campus. “We are confident that they will go out to the world and generate positive change and contributions to their respective professional fields.”

The graduates earned their master’s degrees in four areas of study: music production, technology, and innovation; contemporary performance (production concentration); scoring for film, television, and video games; and global entertainment and music business. “You have chosen a path of art, whether as a performer, producer, composer, manager, or a combination of them, and it’s not an easy one,” said Larry Simpson, Berklee’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “But you’re crafted with courage, discipline, love, and can make a difference. In the difficult times the world is experiencing, we need more music, not less. Music has made a difference for thousands of years. Be true to it.”

Emilio Aragón, one of Spain’s most versatile and recognized artists in the film, TV, and music industries addressed the grads as the commencement’s guest speaker. “Face every project with joy and eagerness,” Aragón counseled. “Don’t underestimate any opportunity, don’t refuse work on what could seem to be a small project while you wait for a bigger one to arrive.” In closing, he said, “In many fields—in music especially—you can only connect with other people if you’re true with yourself.”