Student Profile: Drew Wendt
Drew Wendt, 23, had already danced professionally in Seattle before coming to Berklee. But if changing his focus to music and moving cross-country was a big step, studying abroad at the Jazz & Rock Schulen, Berklee's partner school in Freiburg, might have been even bigger. The fourth-semester jazz crooner had never been to Germany, or even to Europe. He barely knew his Berklee fellow-travelers. As he put it, "I totally left my comfort zone."
But Wendt thrived in Europe, making friends left and right, going dancing in Hamburg with students from all over the world, cooking up a storm, singing his heart out, and even getting a serious grasp on musical subjects he'd struggled with at home. This is a condensed and edited account of our conversation in December at the J&RS coffee bar.
Why did you decide to study in Freiburg?
I wanted to go to Europe. Usually study-abroad programs are very competitive and for upperclassmen. At Berklee, they want underclassmen. It's such an amazing opportunity, and I don't think anyone realizes it. It's the same price. I think it's really foolish if students overlook it.
The Jazz & Rock Schulen teaches the Berklee curriculum to study-abroad students. What are the differences taking Berklee core classes in Boston and in Germany?
Here at the J&RS, they don't check your work—they expect that if you want to be a musician you are going to push yourself. It's a lot less structured. It definitely makes you more of an independent artist.
I get a lot of one-on-one with my teachers, which has really helped. You don't feel stupid asking questions. In smaller classes it's impossible to be passed over. My teachers—they can tell if you don't get it. It forces you to think more about it and understand more.
What are the Jazz & Rock Schulen faculty like?
I feel like they're more relaxed. We get our hands dirty but it's like we're chilling out. In Florian [Enderle]'s Ear Training class, he allows you to make mistakes. So I've gotten a lot better in Ear Training because I've felt comfortable making mistakes. But they're really professional at the same time, too. The teachers here have, like, no ego. They're kindhearted and open and they say it like it is.
How have you handled eating vegetarian in the land of wurst?
I was afraid, because I knew that there was a lot of meat in Germany. But the food is so good; the vegetables are so fresh. I make, like, amazing food, and I'm really proud of myself because I'd never really cooked before. They have a lot of whole-grain pastas. They don't have Wonder Bread at all. There are tons of soy substitutes, because meat is such a big part of the culture, they want vegetarians to have that experience. I go to this biomarkt [health-food market], but I found rice milk at the regular supermarket. Even if you go to Treff 3000 [a discount store] it's still great quality. I think their standards are a lot higher. And they are really big on supporting the local economy here. Everyone goes to the Munsterplatz market and the Christmas market.
I'm loving it. I think I'll only be able to eat organic food when I get back.
Were you concerned about entering a new environment as a gay man?
I worried—I didn't want to be in the closet—but nobody cares. I haven't felt discriminated against at all. I think there are a lot of different cultures here. Mike [Lostica] has crazy long hair and he's Filipino and nobody cares. I feel really included.
You and the other Berklee students have rooms in the Goethe Institute's dorm. How does it compare to the 150 Mass. Ave. dorm at Berklee?
I'm certainly going to miss my accommodations here. I have a lot of friends now who aren't from the Berklee program who are living at the Goethe Institute. There's always plenty to do. I think it's really cool living in the Goethe, because there are people from places I've never met before—Lebanon, Mexico. It's a really good diverse cultural experience.
Did you know any of your fellow Berklee study-abroad students when you came?
I knew Josh [Story], a little bit, because he was my friend's roommate. I totally left my comfort zone to come here. But within the first week we all bonded. We're really like a family. I actually hang out with them way too much. I really like playing with them in my ensemble—we might play together when we return.
I never saw this coming. I never thought that I'd be this close to a bunch of dudes. The guys actually beg me to go out with them. Daniela, we just love having her around. She's really smart about music. I probably should tell her that! I've met people who have really changed me.