Feeling the Beat in Trinidad

Lesley Mahoney
February 9, 2009
Bassist Ron Reid, a professor in the Contemporary Writing and Production Department, performs with Berklee students, vocalist Nadia Washington and saxophonist Leon Cotter, at the Trinidad and Tobago Steelpan and Jazz Festival.
Ron Reid peforms in his native Trinidad at Queen's Hall.
Trumpeter Ken Cervenka and drummer Sean Skeete, Berklee faculty members, perform at the festival.
Student pianist Yujung Jung
Prospective students, and music educators and professionals have plenty of questions at the Berklee workshop.
Yujung Jung interacts with students at the workshop Berklee hosted as part of the festival.
The Berklee sextet, clockwise from left: Leon Cotter, Ron Reid, Ken Cervenka, Sean Skeete, Nadia Washington, and Yujung Jung
Photo by Anthony Harris
Photo by Anthony Harris
Photo by Anthony Harris
Photo by Anthony Harris

Faculty member Ron Reid began his professional career as a bass player in his native Trinidad and Tobago. While his work is now based in Boston, where he teaches contemporary writing and production at Berklee, he stays true to his roots, teaching steelpan labs and ensembles, for example.

He forged another kind of connection by traveling back to Trinidad (home of the steelpan) with a group of colleagues and students to promote Berklee. 

"It's a great chance for me to have a connection back in Trinidad," Reid said of the Trinidad and Tobago Steelpan and Jazz Festival in Trinidad. The festival, launched in 1996 by the Queens' Royal College Foundation, has grown from showcasing primarily local artists to bringing international and local acts alike to the stage, from Trinidad's legendary steel bands to jazz greats such as Al Jarreau and Terrence Blanchard. The Berklee trip was sponsored by an International Faculty Outreach and Exchange grant from the Office of International Programs.

Along with Reid, Ensemble Department assistant chair Sean Skeete and brass professor Ken Cervenka accompanied three students to the annual festival in October. This marked the second year Berklee made the trip to perform as part of the festival and hold a workshop for prospective Berklee students as well as music educators and professionals.

"We did jazz, Caribbean, and everything in between," Reid said of the performance. "We wanted to demonstrate to the audience the diversity of the music at Berklee."

The workshop drew about 200 people, a significant increase over the previous year's attendance of about 40. After performing a few songs, the faculty members and students shared information about how to prepare for Berklee's full-time and summer programs and Berkleemusic's online courses.

Not only did Berklee hopefuls benefit from the visit, but three current students—Leon Cotter, Yujung Jung, and Nadia Washington—had a valuable experience by getting exposure to new music such as a combined big band and steel band and the chance to rehearse with a small steel band.

Washington, a sixth-semester professional music major from Dallas, glowed about her experience. "It was awesome. The audience was really receptive," the voice principal said of the Berklee sextet's performance. "You could tell the people in Trinidad have a true appreciation for their music and for jazz as well."

Despite rehearsing only a few times together, the sextet found a good groove, said Washington. "And when you do that, you can hear it in the music and it seems like we've been together for a long time."

After the workshop, the group jammed a bit and invited anyone interested to join in. "I think we really sparked their interest in coming to Berklee," Washington said of the audience.