2009-2010 Presidential Scholars

Berklee Media Relations
February 9, 2010
Guitar player Michael Bono of Howell, New Jersey.
Drummer Kush Abadey of Cheverly, Maryland.
Upright bass player Spencer Stewart of Vancouver, Washington.
Saxophone player Matthew Halpin of Dublin, Ireland.
Mandolin player Sierra Hull of Byrdstown, Tennessee.
Pianist Ariadna Rivas of Madrid, Spain.
Saxophonist Raul Hernandez of Santa Barbara, California.
Drummer Justin Faulkner of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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
Photo courtesy of the artist

Eight 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.

Michael Bono of Howell, New Jersey, began playing guitar at age 5. His debut performance was his rendition of "Yellow Submarine" for his kindergarten class. In high school, he was the drum major for the Howell Marching Rebels. He has received numerous awards for his talents, including several soloist awards while performing with the Howell High School Jazz Band, the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award, and the National Choral Award. His focus is on jazz guitar, and now he gives private lessons and frequently performs professionally at jazz clubs, restaurants, and private affairs. The career highlight Bono says he is most proud of was performing as the opening act for British jazz guitar virtuoso Martin Taylor.

Drummer Kush Abadey was raised around music in his hometown of Cheverly, Maryland. His father Nasar, a drummer for more than 30 years, made the drums a prominent part of his son's life. Abadey's musical career began at the age of 10 when he joined the Fred Jazz Youth Orchestra. At only 12, he performed as the opening act for Duke Ellington's birthday celebration concert at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C., with his own quartet. After that, his musical career took off. He has performed at the Kennedy Center, the White House, and the Atlas Performing Arts Center with his band Gyroscope, and was a recipient of the Laurel Fund for his talents. He was also the youngest artist to date ever selected for the Strathmore Artist-in-Residence program for performance and composition. Now, not only is Abadey an accomplished drummer, he is an accomplished pianist, vocalist, bandleader, and composer. Abadey has a tremendous passion for jazz, and aspires to be an arranger, producer, and teacher. 

Spencer Stewart of Vancouver, Washington, began playing electric bass at 12 and formed a few rock bands with his friends. He joined the school band, and started playing the upright bass. From then on, he began studying jazz and classical music, and his skills progressed rapidly. In just one year, he was the selected bass player from the Washington All-State Jazz program. Soon after, he was selected to participate in the All-Northwest Jazz program, and won first place in three festivals with the American Music Program. His senior year of high school was filled with studying, rehearsing, and playing gigs. Stewart says he loves music and the people it has brought into his life, and that he hopes to share with others the excitement music has brought him.  

Matthew Halpin from Dublin, Ireland, began playing the saxophone at age 9. Although he started with classical saxophone, he began teaching himself jazz and formed his first working band by age 13. He studied at the Royal Irish Academy of music for seven years, and received a scholarship to pay for his final five. His relocation to Boston for college isn't the first time Halpin's talents have taken him across the globe—he performed as the featured soloist in New York with the RTE Concert Orchestra, the Dublin City Big Band, and the RIAM Big Band. He also traveled to Canada in 2008 to participate in the Banff Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music. Halpin also won several awards from in the Feis Coeil National Music Competitions, and in 2008 he was awarded a scholarship from the Sligo Jazz Project Summer Workshops and was a headline act there this year. 

Mandolin player Sierra Hull of Byrdstown, Tennessee, is no stranger to the spotlight. The New York Sun praised Hull as a "wonderfully adapt" mandolin player, and even bluegrass star Alison Krauss referred to her as "remarkably talented." Hull began playing the mandolin at age 8 and was quickly noted for her inventive picking and musical maturity. Her first album, Angel Mountain, was released in 2002 and was purely instrumental. In 2008, she released the vocal-heavy album Secrets, which displayed her vocal evolution in the six years that separated the two projects. Hull has appeared at the Great High Mountain Tour, on the Grand Ole Opry radio and TV shows, and has shared the stage with bluegrass legends such as Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Mountain Heart, and Ricky Skaggs. She has also been performing with the International Bluegrass Music Association since she was only 10. The list of Hull's accomplishments goes on, but she considers it most important of all to remain humble, good-natured, and gracious through it all.

Pianist Ariadna Rivas of Madrid, Spain, started studying music at 6. She traveled to London to attend the Guildhall School of Music for piano, but returned to Spain after her studies to pursue her interests in flamenco music. She toured around the world with flamenco companies such as Vivancos 7, and worked with acclaimed flamenco artists such as Jorge Pardo and Jesus del Rosario. After only four years of working on flamenco piano styles, she was signed with Casa Limón to record her first album.  

Raul Hernandez of Santa Barbara, California, is a saxophonist and was always a prominent member of his high school's music department. Although his journey to being accepted to Berklee was full of obstacles such as a canceled flight and missed audition, he believed he was meant to attend the college. Hernandez said he chose to start playing the alto saxophone because, compared to instruments like the oboe, it looked cool. 

Drummer Justin Faulkner of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, began playing at the age of 3. At 7, he enrolled in the Settlement Music School where he studied classical and jazz percussion. Faulkner also attended the Girard Academic Music Program where, by 12, he became the center snare and percussion coordinator. Soon after, he played his first gig with bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and he encountered rapid success. He became the youngest member of the Charles Mingus Big Band, assumed the position of drum chair of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, and can be found in the January 2009 issue of Modern Drummer magazine in an artist spotlight.

Diversity and opportunity are the twin pillars of the Presidential Scholarship initiative. "As a private college, we're expensive for a family without a lot of income," says Berklee President Roger H. Brown. "The added challenges in this difficult time might make higher education seem inaccessible to a student. If we want to continue to be the place where the finest contemporary musicians gather regardless of socioeconomic status, we have to work to make sure it's possible for them to get here, and then stay here."

Presidential Scholarships were first awarded for students attending in the fall of 2005, and more are added annually. There are currently 24 Presidential Scholars studying at Berklee. The college's board of trustees believes so deeply in the initiative that it has approved the use of $1.5 million from the college's endowment to fund the program.

To be considered for a Presidential Scholarship, students must audition through Berklee's existing scholarship audition program. Those who are identified as full-tuition scholarship candidates based on musical merit will be invited to submit a federal financial aid form. Those that demonstrate need will be considered for a Presidential Scholarship. To apply, students should call the Berklee Scholarships Office at 617 747-8681 or email scholarships@berklee.edu. Applications can be found in the Scholarships section of Berklee's website at berklee.edu.