With Berklee’s Class of 2016, Music Is in Good Hands

Mike Keefe-Feldman
May 1, 2016
Berklee students at commencement; photo by Dave Green
Berklee students at last year's commencement
Photo by Dave Green

As their names are called out at commencement on May 7, Berklee’s class of 2016 will move from students to alumni poised to take the reigns of contemporary music.

They came to Berklee from more than 60 nations and nearly every U.S. state, and most will tell you that what they'll take with them beyond newfound knowledge and a diploma is a lifelong, shared Berklee bond forged in their mutual love of music.

In a recent interview, the virtuosic, multi-Grammy-winning bassist Victor Wooten, a performance scholar in residence at Berklee, said of the next generation of Berklee student musicians that he encounters, “Music is in good hands.”

Watch the 2016 Berklee senior video:

It’s not possible to encompass the incredibly diverse spectrum of the class of 2016 in a few profiles, so we offer these 16 vignettes—representing each of the undergraduate majors at Berklee as well as degree, diploma, and Berklee Online programs—merely as a window into what Berklee staff and faculty like Wooten see daily: that the future of music is, truly, in good hands.

Arnetta Johnson '16; photo by Kelly DavidsonArnetta Johnson

Trumpeter Arnetta Johnson of Camden, New Jersey, first turned heads at Berklee’s High School Jazz Festival, and the professional music major has since spent her time at Berklee honing her chops with the likes of Darren Barrett, Tia Fuller, and Sean Jones. Along the way, she earned a scholarship from Jill Scott’s Blues Babe Foundation and has performed with Janelle Monae, Ledisi, and more. “I just want to soar by the time I’m out of here,” Johnson says, and listening to her playing, it’s clear she is ready to do so.

Watch Arnetta Johnson perform an arrangement of Zara Larsson's "Never Forget You" arranged by fellow graduating student Paul Sanchez:

Carlos Capacho '16Carlos Capacho

The Berklee Global Jazz Institute encourages students who play instruments not traditionally associated with jazz to break new ground, as cuatro player Carlos Capacho has certainly done. A performance major originally from Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela, Capacho previously studied at the Caracas Conservatory of Music, which offered him a teaching position due to his innovative melodic technique on the cuatro. “I’m almost creating a new language for this instrument,” says Capacho, who has begun experimenting with pedals and synthesizers for cuatro and who is cowriting the first jazz-oriented training guide for the instrument.

Watch Carlos Capacho perform “Global” live at Berklee:

Esther Rojas '16; photo by Kelly DavidsonEsther Rojas

Esther Rojas is an arranger, producer, and bassist from Barranquilla, Colombia, who advanced her already-established career in music while majoring in contemporary writing and production at Berklee. While here, she was selected to co-arrange, coproduce, and serve as musical director for Alejandro Sanz’s performance with Berklee students at the Latin Grammys in 2013, and she also served as student musical director, arranger, and bassist for the legendary Totó la Momposina’s Berklee Signature Series concert this past fall, as well as for the Future of the Americas Summit organized by the Clinton Foundation in Miami, Florida. She has performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival and cofounded the group Sudacas.

Watch Sudacas perform “Tarde de Abril” live at Berklee:

Robert Gould '16Robert Gould

After joining the Berklee City Music program in Atlanta, Georgia, Robert Gould earned a scholarship to Berklee, where he majored in music/business management. Gould’s remarkable stint at Berklee includes everything from a recording session with George Clinton and Moby to singing the national anthem at Boston’s beloved Fenway Park to founding and leading his own group, the Robert Gould Experience. Gould plans to marry his performance and business skills as a media and entertainment mogul in the model of Ryan Seacrest, and he notes that the City Music program “has taken me to a place where my dreams have become realities and doors I never could have imagined have opened.”

Nicole Schoen '16Nicole Schoen
A native of Saugerties, New York, multi-instrumentalist and marketing professional Nicole Schoen lives and works in New York City and is graduating from Berklee’s online bachelor of professional studies degree program. She first discovered the online degree program—which she says “really pushed me to go after my career goals”—after taking Berklee’s free Music Business 101 course through edX. Schoen works in New York City at United Talent Agency, which represents many of the world's most celebrated entertainment figures. She plans to work toward opening her own marketing agency for independent artists and, eventually, owning her own venue.

David Murillo R. '16; photo by Mike Keefe-FeldmanDavid Murillo R.

David Murillo R. undertook a dual major in film scoring and electronic production and design at Berklee. From Medellín, Colombia, Murillo aimed to advance his career as a composer for visual media at Berklee, and he succeeded in smashing fashion with his scores for Nefertiti’s Daughters, a documentary that has won awards from more than a dozen international film festivals, and his score to La Ciénaga: Entre el Mar y la Tierra (or Between Sea and Land), which won the Audience Award for Best Film in the World Cinema Dramatic category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Watch a trailer for Between Sea and Land featuring Murillo’s score:

Wambura Mitaru '16; photo by David MohaiWambura Mitaru

Wambura Mitaru held a bachelor’s degree in communications prior to coming to Berklee, where she became the first female recipient of Berklee’s Africa Scholars Program scholarship. A dual major in music education and music business/management, Mitaru is a singer-songwriter who has toured the world and who aims to teach music and to foster greater accessibility to arts education in Africa. At Berklee, she was music director of the Berklee African Club and founded a clothing exchange to help international students with access to winter apparel.

Watch her perform her original song “Work in Progress,” which became the unofficial anthem of the college’s (now-completed) state-of-the-art tower at 160 Massachusetts Avenue:

Josh Shpak '16Josh Shpak

A protégé of the late jazz icon Clark Terry, Josh Shpak took a dual major in film scoring and performance at Berklee and has performed with a diverse array of artists, including George Garzone, Dave Liebman, Jimmy Heath, Tower of Power, and Josh Groban. In addition to his own Josh Shpak Band, he performs with Ripe, the Affinity Quartet, and the Mario Castro Quintet. Shpak’s love of music will ring true to his fellow Berklee students: “I love connecting with people,” he says. “Whether they be teenagers or your grandma, if I can see that they’re feeling the music, I’m happy.”

Watch the Josh Shpak Band perform “Always Gone” at Berklee:

Nora Alejandra González Herrera '16Nora Alejandra González Herrera

Actively involved with Berklee Latino, Nora Alejandra González Herrera’s collegiate career included performances with Alejandro Sanz, Susana Baca, and Jon Secada. She continues to perform, as Nora Zahera, in Mexico City. A music business/management major who held a work-study position at Berklee, she now works in A&R for Westwood Entertainment and Publishing, the largest independent management and publishing company in Latin America—a position she says she landed thanks to her involvement as vice president of Berklee’s Latin American Music Business Association. At Berklee, she says, “the most helpful tool I got was the people, contacts, and friends I got to make.”

Vasilis Kostas '16Vasilis Kostas

Vasilis Kostas of Ioannina, Greece, earned an outstanding musicianship award at the Berklee at Umbria Jazz Clinics in 2011 and studied at Berklee International Network (BIN) partner Philippos Nakas Conservatory, as well as Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, prior to earning a scholarship to attend Berklee. A laouto player, guitarist, and composer, Kostas, a professional music major, draws from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences, and his extraordinary musicianship garnered him an award from Berklee’s Mediterranean Music Institute (MMI) as well as a recording session with MMI artistic director and acclaimed producer Javier Limón.

Watch Vasilis Kostas, featuring Layth Sidiq, performing Kostas' "Kalesma:"

Casey McQuillen '16; photo by Brad BahnerCasey Ann McQuillen

Casey McQuillen advanced pretty far on American Idol, but her greater success is the advance of her “You Matter” campaign, which has taken her to middle schools all across the U.S. to provoke discussions about bullying, self-image, and the importance of a strong work ethic and respect for all people. With a dual major in songwriting and music business/management, McQuillen, an Andover, Massachusetts native, credits Berklee songwriting courses for inspiring her to take more time on her songs, and she says that the nonprofit program she has founded is “where my passion for human rights and music all come together.”

Nacho González '16Nacho González

Hailing from Montevideo, Uruguay, Nacho González had a successful career in the nonprofit field but longed to pursue music, so he came to Berklee to study jazz composition in the college’s professional diploma program. Along the way, he established a band, the Nasty Candombe Mafia, which won a slot in the 2015 Jazz Education Network’s Young Composer Showcase—recognition that led to a gig at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York City. González overcame his nerves to reach out to his jazz heroes and has performed with faculty members George Garzone, Oscar Stagnaro, Terence Blanchard, and Nando Michelin, who calls González “a very dedicated artist.”

Watch González lead Blanchard and Garzone on an original at Berklee:

Joy Ngiaw '16; photo by Cory Allen StaatsJoy Ngiaw

Joy Ngiaw majored in film scoring at Berklee and is now in L.A. working for composer Jeff Russo (whose recent credits include the TV series Fargo). Ngiaw, who is originally from Pahang, Malaysia, aced the assignment of a lifetime when film scoring professor Sheldon Mirowitz tapped her to collaborate with him on the first reel of an all-new score to the classic silent film Nosferatu, which drew a standing ovation from a full house at Boston’s Symphony Hall last year. Ngiaw overcame her doubts about the daunting task and says she learned that "as long as you are passionate and dedicated to your art, you can do whatever it takes."

Phil Didlake '16Phil Didlake

Phil Didlake, a music therapy major, first recognized the power of music to increase well-being, remove social barriers, and improve lives when he participated in drum circles in his native California. Active at Berklee, Didlake has assisted blind students in facilitating textbook-learning and taking tests, and he is the president of the New England Region of the American Music Therapy Association for Students (NER-AMTAS). He has also hosted a drum circle at the First Parish in Brookline, Massachusetts, and has founded a rhythmical movement meetup group at Berklee to help other students facilitate their own drum circles.

Marika Galea '16Marika Galea

Marika Galea is a Canadian bassist and composer who cut her teeth in the Toronto jazz scene before earning a full scholarship to attend Berklee, where she has taken on a dual major in composition and performance and studied with Grammy-winning drummer and Berklee professor Terri Lyne Carrington as well as Terence Blanchard and Ralph Peterson Jr. As a bandleader at Berklee, she led her jazz quartet at the 2015 Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival, and has performed at famed New York City venues such as Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Smalls, and Jazz Standard, and with artists such as Cyrus Chestnut, Warren Wolf, and Steve Davis.

Watch the Marika Galea Quartet perform Galea’s “Nanaimo”:

Kaushlesh Purohit '16; photo by Kelly DavidsonKaushlesh Purohit

For music production and engineering major Kaushlesh Purohit, who grew up in Jodhpur, India, listening to A. R. Rahman’s music, a Berklee education came with a dream assignment: mixing a video of the 2014 A. R. Rahman Meets Berklee concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall. Purohit’s time at Berklee also included a close-up view of audio engineering and producing practices in Music City, USA during the college's annual Nashville trip this year, and he witnessed the formation of the Berklee India Exchange.

Purohit frequently played tabla in Annette Philip's Berklee Indian Ensemble, which he describes as “a family” and “an amazing experience,” and he recently joined with other Berklee Indian Ensemble members to perform “Jaago Piya.” For the video, participants held up signs to denote that which makes them happy and for which they are grateful:

As the class of 2016 prepares for the next chapter, we wish each of them success in finding, following, and furthering that which makes them happy and grateful.

Watch Rita Moreno's 2016 Berklee commencement address:

Contributing writers and research: Kimberly Ashton, Joshua Breeden, Allen Bush, Rob Hochschild, Mike Keefe-Feldman, Kayley Kravitz, Darry Madden, Lesley O'Connell, Bryan Parys, and Jessica Scarpati.

Contributing photographers: Brad Bahner, Kelly Davidson, Mike Keefe-Feldman, David Mohai, and Cory Allen Staats.