Berklee Latino Creates Connections for Latin American Musicians

By 
Katie DePasquale
February 17, 2016
eLena
Cellist Adriana Garcell Domínguez is from Havana, Cuba, but lives in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
A violinist since age 10, eLena Ramirez is from Chihuahua City, Mexico, and now lives in Mexico City.
Nicolas Gonzalez Orozco is a high school senior from Medellín, Colombia.
Now in her second semester at Berklee, saxophonist Itzel Salinas Reyna is planning to study performance and film scoring.

For many musicians in Latin America, attending Berklee seems like an impossible dream due to barriers like distance and language. But for the past three years, Berklee has worked to change that through the innovative Berklee Latino program. Now serving 500 students, Berklee Latino holds yearly, weeklong programs of study in Mexico City, Mexico, and Bogota, Colombia in which students are taught Berklee courses by Berklee faculty in Spanish. Due to the program’s popularity, in 2016 Berklee will add new locations in Ecuador and Peru, and another program in Mexico

In addition to reaching a new group of musicians, Berklee Latino focuses on teaching Latin music. The program is run by Javier Limón, the artistic director; Oscar Stagnaro, the academic director; and Guillermo Cisneros, the executive director as well as vice president for Global Initiatives at Berklee. Berklee wants to educate students through modern music while teaching them the tools they need to succeed, Cisneros said; but it’s equally important “to connect with musicians around the world and have an exchange of ideas and culture.”

“The Berklee Latino program does all of this,” he said. “We seek to take the Berklee classroom to the student’s own country where we explore together the rich Latin music tradition.” 

The four students profiled here are a testament to the life-changing potential of Berklee Latino.

Adriana Garcell Domínguez

Cellist Adriana Garcell Domínguez is from Havana, Cuba, but lives in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She first attended Berklee Latino in Bogota and then won scholarships to the Spain Summer Study Abroad Program at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain; Berklee on the Road: Santo Domingo; and one of Berklee’s summer programs in Boston, Global String Intensive. She loved the Colombia program because it was the most oriented toward Latin music. “In the performance classes, I learned the most,” she said, citing her experiences working with Nando Michelin, Leo Quintero, and Javier Limón as standouts. “I’m a classical musician, but Berklee opened the doors to popular music, and I can now come up with innovations [in my music]…It’s a really good experience because for all of the Latino students, it’s showing the world what Latin music is all about.” Now, Domínguez is applying to come to Berklee as an undergraduate to study music therapy.

eLena Ramirez

A violinist since age 10, eLena Ramirez is from Chihuahua City, Mexico, and now lives in Mexico City. She’s an independent musician pursuing a career as a violin teacher and a singer-songwriter, with two CDs and an EP. She attended Berklee Latino in Mexico City, and cites studying with Enrique Gonzalez Muller, the Grammy-winning producer, as a highlight of the program. “He gave me this vision about music, not only production…He showed us how to work on our own demos, music, and songwriting. He made me feel empowered.” With her increased understanding of the music business, Ramirez is preparing a new demo and plans to write music with two people she met through Berklee Latino; they keep in touch online. She says, “It’s nice to meet people who have the same vision about music, the same lifestyle.”

Nicolas Gonzalez Orozco 

Nicolas Gonzalez Orozco is a high school senior from Medellín, Colombia. He attended the Bogota program twice, studying guitar and vocal technique. He has received two scholarships through Berklee Latino to attend the Songwriting Workshop, a Berklee summer program in Boston, and is currently applying to come to Berklee full time.

“[In the Berklee Latino program], it was very important that we play music that we are not very used to. People that are used to playing rock, they had to study all types of music and music that is from Colombia and Latin America; we had to explore other parts of our musicality. And the teachers [showed us] how well you can develop your skills.”

Although he usually plays light pop that incorporates Latin rhythms, thanks to Berklee Latino, Orozco is now better at “thinking outside the box” when it comes to his songs. “I feel like the program is a wonderful platform for young musicians. It gives us great tools and even greater dreams for our careers.” One of his goals is to show people what Colombian music is all about, and he feels better equipped to do this due to the knowledge he gained through Berklee Latino.

Itzel Salinas Reyna

Now in her second semester at Berklee, saxophonist Itzel Salinas Reyna is planning to study performance and film scoring. From Mexico City, she attended Berklee Latino twice. When she attended the first-ever Berklee Latino program in January 2014, she was studying classical saxophone at the National School of Music in Mexico but had always wanted to study at Berklee. It hadn’t seemed possible though until she met the faculty of Berklee Latino. “They helped me to find more chances to apply,” she said.

Thanks to a scholarship she received during Berklee Latino, she participated in the Five-Week Summer Performance Program, and then she decided to apply to the college. She was the recipient of the 2015 Enrique Iglesias Scholarship by the Latin Grammy Foundation, a scholarship that covers full tuition and room and board for her time at Berklee. After Reyna received this award, she attended Berklee Latino once more before coming to Boston last fall. Berklee Latino helped her form lasting connections with teachers such as Nando Michelin and Oscar Stagnaro, both of whom have been integral to her development as a musician. “The thing I liked most about Berklee Latino is that you can get to know people from all over the world, and from elsewhere in Latin America, and I never had that experience in Mexico,” she said. Although she found it overwhelming at first to have all of her classes in English and to live alone in another country, she has found everyone to be welcoming, which helped her to feel at home quickly. She said, “Berklee has this world view and can help you to develop yourself as a musician so much.” She hopes that many others will get the opportunities she has had.