Student Profile: Natan Kuchar
Natan Kuchar traces his foundation in music to the Jewish community in Sydney, Australia. His mother started a choir, Kosher Kuckabird, named for the Australian bird. "It was a bunch of Jewish boys singing Jewish songs about Jewish events," he says. "I was able to get myself known in the Jewish community. That's basically where it started."
He went on to become a member of the child synagogue choir, and later its adult choir, of which he is still a member when he's on break from Berklee. Kuchar also credits the music program at the Jewish private school he attended from elementary through high school. He was principal trombonist for his school's tour band, which took him all the way to the United States, Canada, and Israel; he played in the jazz and concert bands; and he led an eight-piece vocal ensemble. "High school was a very busy time for me," he says. "I was really involved in music."
Kuchar, also a budding songwriter, developed a bit of an entrepreneurial streak at a young age, recording original albums and selling them to his friends.
But Kuchar didn't really consider music as a serious career aspiration until late in high school. "I didn't necessarily want to study music. I just wanted to do architecture like all my other friends," he recalls. "Then my music teacher said, 'Why on earth would you do that?' I was very passionate about music, I was already writing in high school, and I was a really capable singer, but I never thought a living could be made of music."
That same teacher told him about Berklee, and Kuchar took it from there. But he didn't make his decision to come here lightly. "Going to the other side of the world for school, I had to be sure that was the one I wanted," he says. As it turns out, coming to Berklee represents a sort of homecoming for Kuchar; he was born in Boston, where his family had been living for two years, and moved back to Sydney two weeks later. Back in Boston, he regularly walks by the hospital where he was born while on the way to teach Hebrew school one day a week.
While he's settled into a good groove here, studying contemporary writing and production, Kuchar had a bit of a rough start. "I thought, coming from Australia, 'It's the same language, the same everything. There's not going to be a big difference,'" he recalls. "Americans speak English, but I don't speak their language."
This cultural divide was underscored during his first class at Berklee, when teacher Gabrielle Goodman asked her Vocal R&B Styles Lab students to identify their favorite r&b singers. While his classmates rattled off myriad performers he hadn't heard of, Kuchar was quick to mention obvious ones but struggled to show a depth of knowledge about American r&b singers. He also found himself tripping through "Wade in the Water," as the other students demonstrated a familiarity for the century-old spiritual, adeptly improvising over chord changes. "I came back the next week, all fired up and ready," he says. "I didn't know all those r&b names. Now I know them. My first semester, I focused on the fact that I'm here to study."
Now, Kuchar is soaking up all he can at Berklee, getting schooled in how to produce his tunes. "It's no longer just pen on paper or sheet music," he says. "CWP has allowed me to learn writing and arranging of simple melodies and then go on to produce it, record it, and create beautiful-sounding arrangements."
He's also found time to stay connected to Judaism as music director of Kol Echad, a student-run Jewish a cappella group at Boston University. "The aspects of Judaism and high school music were two things that I left behind in Sydney, but I was able to relocate it in Boston with this group." Not to mention that Kuchar finds it the perfect outlet to practice the skills he's learning at Berklee. "In CWP, we learn how to write, arrange, direct, and produce. In this vocal group, I write and arrange music for the group, teach and conduct it, and then produce it when we record our album at the end of each year and perform," he says.
He has his sights set on someday directing a high school band, to use the skills he's gained here. "Having all that knowledge, I have so much more to say to people when I want to direct them into being the best they can be," he says. He's also interested in writing for vocal ensembles, in the vein of Take 6 and Singers Unlimited. Then there's commercial music. "There's something intriguing about that quiet fame, where your music is played repeatedly as the background to a TV commercial or radio jingle—a melody that everyone can remember but by a composer that nobody knew."
Natan's Top Five Influential Songs
- "Oedipus" - Regina Spektor
- "Overjoyed" - Stevie Wonder
- "Tom's Diner" - Suzanne Vega
- "Extraordinary Machine" - Fiona Apple
- "Cry Me a River" - Justin Timberlake