Student Profile: Janet Onyenucheya

Lesley Mahoney
August 22, 2007

As a child, Janet Onyenucheya spent hours singing with a toy microphone and tape machine.

"I'd be in my room in front of the mirror and dance and sing for hours. I sang on it until I broke the thing," she recalls. "I just always had a lot of energy and loved putting on a show."

Drawn to music at an early age, Onyenucheya was in awe of stars such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey. "There were all these icons at their peak when I was little. They just sort of captured me and I thought, 'This is what I want to do.'"

Onyenucheya's "debut performance" was at her older brother's graduation from preschool. "I was so scared," she says. "Then I did it and my mom was so happy. That was the moment that I realized: 'Oh my God. People actually really like [when I sing].'"

Though she's come a long way since singing for her brother's classmates, even today, the professional music major gets pre-performance jitters. "I still get nervous," admits Onyenucheya, a seventh-semester professional music major and voice principal.

Always interested in contemporary music, rather than jazz or classical styles, Onyenucheya—who attended high school across from the Juilliard School at Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music, Art, and Performing Arts—was thrilled when she found out about Berklee. "I looked at what Berklee offered and I thought, 'I love contemporary music and I want to focus on that and see what I can do in that realm.' Because of that, I thought, 'I have to see what this school is about.' I got super excited."

Onyenucheya got seriously turned onto contemporary music while in high school, taking a class, New Music Singers. "I think that's what really focused me and gave me a clearer understanding of the direction I wanted to go in."

During a tour of the Berklee campus, Onyenucheya, who hails from the Bronx, New York, remembers being impressed with the computer labs and the music synthesis studios. "The facilities really sold me," she says.

For Onyenucheya, majoring in professional music has allowed her the flexibility to craft her own course of study. "I was really interested in music business because I've always wanted to both be proficient as a musician and on the business end, but I also wanted to do other things." (Among those "other things" are: writing songs and learning how to produce a demo of her songs to potentially pitch to artists.)

"I figured that professional music would be my best bet because it would allow me, for the most part, to create my own curriculum and follow my own direction. I really like taking charge of my future. With pro music, I can pick and choose the best of what I saw in all the majors that Berklee offers and tailor a schedule to my needs."

Among Onyenucheya's most memorable times at Berklee is sure to be her semester studying abroad at Philippos Nakas Conservatory in Athens, Greece. Leading up to the trip—which marked the first program of its kind offered at Berklee—she was nervous, having never traveled outside the United States, let alone to a different country where a different language is spoken. "I was actually very afraid to take such a big step," she recalls. It took me about two weeks to just settle in and realize where I was. After those two weeks, when I got over all the nervousness, it was just such an experience. It took me to another level. At Berklee, I was surrounded by international students, but now I was actually going somewhere international."

"It was a culture shock, but it was a good one. I was just so at ease. I felt that I was removed from everything that I was comfortable with and used to, but that actually helped me find a bit of myself. I had to learn to adapt to a different environment, a different culture, and a different language."

Along with teaching Onyenucheya some meaningful life lessons, the trip also broadened her horizons musically. "I had never listened to Greek music before. Their music is in these odd meters that I'm totally not used to. I found some stuff that I really, really liked that I would never have bought in a CD store."

While there, Onyenucheya had the chance to perform with the group Boogie Bass. "That was awesome," she recalls. "We would sing every Thursday at this club, and then sometimes, we'd sing on another day at a different club. I had never had a steady gig with the same group of musicians for an extended period of time before. Learning to work in this group with a bunch of dynamics was really awesome. I think most of it was me learning from them. I don't know if they learned anything from me."

What's in store for Onyenucheya after Berklee? She's aiming high, but prepared if her most ambitious plans don't come to fruition. "I have two sets of goals: the dream set and the more realistic set. For the dream set, I would love to be a performer and recording artist-making albums and music videos, and doing tours," she says. "But realistically, if I couldn't, I would like to be a music publisher, publishing my own songs—I love songwriting—and expanding and taking on other writers, but more in the vein of Diane Warren. She writes songs, has her own music publishing, and she controls all of her copyrights, but she works with a ton of different artists in different styles; I'd like to do something along that line."

Janet's Top Five Most Influential Artists

  • Beyoncé
  • Kim Burrell
  • Mariah Carey
  • Whitney Houston
  • Michael Jackson