Personifying Art's Power, Class of 2017 Takes Reins
Preparing to cross the commencement stage on Saturday, May 13, the undergraduate class of 2017, which came to Boston from more than 70 countries and more than 40 U.S. states, will soon celebrate both its incredible diversity as well as the unity of its shared purpose: to make art.
Some made that art on the stage as musicians and, in light of the merger that created Boston Conservatory at Berklee, as actors and dancers, too. Others made it in hospitals and nursing homes, in schools, and behind the boards of recording studios. Many found that art with a laptop computer or with paper and pen, determined to capture the music, lyrics, choreography, audio, and visuals that raced through their heads. Some facilitated making art by harnessing their technical knowledge, while others drew upon their spirit of entrepreneurism.
However and wherever they did it, the class of 2017 personified the power of art to build up our knowledge and break down our artificial barriers. While it's impossible to capture the full breadth of creation that the class of 2017 has undertaken, we offer these 17 vignettes of graduating students—17 for '17—as a snapshot of the remarkable work and creative capabilities of these soon-to-be alumni.
Zahili Gonzalez Zamora, a dual major in jazz composition and performance, originally from Manzanillo, Cuba, came to Berklee after graduating from the National Conservatory of Music in Havana and performing throughout Canada and Southeast Asia. At Berklee, her artistry blossomed further as she formed Mixcla, a dynamic Latin jazz group that performed at the 2015 Montreal Jazz Festival and at the 2016 Monterey Jazz Festival (at the latter, Zamora met her idol, legendary 27-time Grammy-winner Quincy Jones ’51 H’83). With a global palette that draws on Cuban music, American jazz, contemporary soul, and more, Zamora envisions a future in which she will have “gained a full understanding of music, to the point of spontaneously letting it lead me wherever it wants to take me.”
Watch Zamora perform live at Berklee with MIXCLA:
It’s not entirely clear how Luis Gamarra had time to attend to his course work. The music business/management major from Santa Cruz, Bolivia launched his own nonprofit, Sonidos Bolivianos, while still a student, with a viral video featuring a performance of Bolivia’s National Anthem performed in the Salar de Uyuni (the largest salt flat in the world). Working in conjunction with the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE), Gamarra followed it up with a project titled “Yo Soy Inmigrante,” a song and video that gives voice to the immigrant experience. “As an immigrant myself," he says, “I have this chance to—through music—work for social change.”
“Berklee was an opportunity that changed my life.” —Luis Gamarra
Watch a music video for "Yo Soy Inmigrante:"
Graduating Boston Conservatory at Berklee dance student Marquis Floyd has already cofounded his own dance company, the Kali Kali Dance Company in his hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. The company cultivates a safe space for youth where the arts can positively impact their lives. Kali Kali now has 70 company members ranging in age from 5 to 18+ and has its own studio, a formerly vacant warehouse that Floyd and friends transformed. “We teach the dancers life lessons,” Floyd says. “We mentor them and allow them the space to grow.” His senior dance project, “I Am Uniquely Me,” promotes self-love and diversity within unity, deftly weaving together dance, music, and spoken word poetry, and he is now performing in the Conservatory's spring dance concert, Limitless.
Watch Floyd and others perform choreography to Adele's "Hello:"
Esin Aydingoz, hailing from Istanbul, Turkey, earned the Arif Mardin Scholarship through Berklee’s Soundbreaking campaign to complete a dual major in contemporary writing and production and film scoring. Aydingoz was one of a small group of student composers selected to work with multi-Emmy-nominated Professor Sheldon Mirowitz on creating the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra’s brand new score to Harold Lloyd’s classic 1925 silent film, The Freshman. Aydingoz also served as a student ambassador and as part of Berklee’s Student Government Association. “My goal is to write music for Broadway and for Disney/Pixar movies,” says Aydingoz, who is amassing the experience to make that goal a reality.
Listen to Aydingoz's "The Romantic Roller-Coaster:"
Nikhil Singh is a composer, producer, and creative coder from Mumbai, India who took a dual major in composition and electronic production and design. Singh came to Berklee as a student but wound up also being a teacher, tutoring his peers in computer programming languages such as C, Objective-C, Csound, and Max/MSP/Jitter, among others—a skill set that enables Singh and those he shares his knowledge with to program their own digital music and audio. Among Singh’s faculty mentors was Neil Leonard, with whom he collaborated on an interactive concert for 100 iPhones and on a jazz/electronic fusion concert with renowned composer and visiting scholar Terence Blanchard, best known for scoring most of director Spike Lee’s films.
Natasha Pheko, a professional music major from Vancouver, Canada, came to Berklee upon being awarded the Slaight Family Scholarship after attending the Sarah McLachlan School of Music (a Berklee City Music Network partner) throughout high school. Pheko, a contemporary R&B singer-songwriter who goes by the artist handle “Phé,” has sung background vocals on Aloe Blacc’s hit single “The Man” and has been steadily developing her own voice and soulful style at Berklee, influenced by artists such as Erykah Badu, Sade, and Lauryn Hill. Phé will soon release her debut EP, Crisis. Phé’s debut single, “Incredible,” is a finalist in this year’s International Songwriting Competition.
Listen to a podcast interview with Phé:
Before discovering Berklee Online, Carla Hassett had already established a solid music industry career, touring, performing, and recording with artists including Solomon Burke, Flora Purim, REO Speedwagon, Billy Idol, and Sergio Mendes. Hassett enrolled in Berklee Online's Art of Mixing course in 2012, later applying to the online degree program. Since starting with Berklee Online, Hassett has lent her voice to major motion pictures, including Rio 2, on which she sung alongside Janelle Monáe. The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter will graduate with a Bachelor of Professional Studies in Music Production, and will be the first Berklee Online student to play in the commencement concert.
Eleri Ward is a multitalented actor, singer, songwriter, and musician who has performed in multiple main stage performances during her time at Boston Conservatory at Berklee, where she will graduate with a B.F.A. in musical theater. Ward has been an active member of Cabaret, a Conservatory community outreach group that performs at venues such as elderly housing facilities and hospitals for those who cannot otherwise attend performances. In her senior year, Ward became the director of the Cabaret group, and this past summer, she was cast in The Wizard of Oz at the Muny Theater in St. Louis, Missouri, America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater.
Watch Ward perform a musical theater medley:
Jaehyeon Kim, from Chuncheon, South Korea, took a major in music production and engineering and a minor in acoustics and electronics at Berklee. “I aspire to be a recording engineer and envision myself working in the field of academia—teaching and researching in the field of audio sciences,” Kim notes. He has made significant headway toward that goal at Berklee, working as a studio operations assistant, and gracing the airwaves as a DJ at the Berklee Internet Radio Network (BIRN). Upon graduation, Kim plans to pursue a Master of Music degree in music technology and an advanced certificate in Tonmeister studies.
Katie Hattier put her music business/management major at Berklee into practice as an artists’ manager, as executive coordinator for the popular Yellow Dog Music Festival, and as a production intern for the 2017 Panama Jazz Festival, working alongside the festival’s executive director, Patricia Zarate. In addition, she’s worked as a marketing intern at Berklee, a booking agent at Back Bay Beats (B3), and as a VIP operations staffer with the Boston Calling music festival. Hattier, who is from Boerne, Texas, plans to pursue an MBA. Her goal is to open up opportunities for musicians in the developing world. Says Hattier, “I have found my niche: bringing opportunities to those who would not normally have access.”
After 10 years of classical harp training in her home city of Brussels, Belgium and a year at Music Academy International in Nancy, France (a Berklee International Network partner school), Pia Salvia came to Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program following her competitive run on the French edition of reality TV show The Voice. The harpist, guitarist, pianist, and vocalist was awarded a scholarship to attend Berklee, where she has since pushed the harp’s boundaries as a professional music major and explored musical traditions from Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, Spain, and more (Salvia was also one of many students who recently performed at Boston's Symphony Hall with Wang Leehom '99, China's king of pop). String Department Professor Felice Pomeranz says Salvia, an up-and-coming international performer, “is the kind of student we, as teachers, all hope to have. She is interested in learning everything.”
Watch Salvia perform an original, "Moody," at Berklee:
D’Anthoni Wooten’s path in music began in Kansas, where the self-taught pianist regularly performed jazz and gospel and began producing for local hip-hop and R&B artists. At Berklee, Wooten took on a dual major in electronic production and design and film scoring and a minor in video game scoring; this year, he received Berklee’s Video Game Scoring Award. Adept with orchestral and electronic sounds, Wooten interned at the Los Angeles-based full service production company Music and Motion Productions (co-founded by Berklee alumni Lucas Vidal B.M. '07 and Steve Dzialowski B.M. '07) and he has founded his own company, Melodic Vision Music. Wooten plans to intern at Tokyo-based game/animation production house G-Angle after graduation.
Listen to Wooten’s video game-themed "SELECT X:"
Fluent on piano, guitar, violin, flute, and vocals, Danielle Parkka is a skilled performer, but with a dual major in songwriting and music education, her passion lies in teaching. Coming from Cape Cod, Parkka’s studies have already translated into lesson plans, and she credits her course work with opening her mind to new technological possibilities in the music classroom. “My students will become more aware of who they are, who they want to be, and who others are around them through music,” Parkka pledges in her teaching statement. “I will create a communal environment that encourages collective growth over competition, and students will learn to love their individual creativity and uniqueness.”
Hailing from Singapore, pianist and composer Simon Ng received a scholarship to attend Berklee, where he majored in professional music and studied with renowned pianists such as Yoko Miwa and the late Ray Santisi. With a keen interest in the traditions of jazz, R&B, pop, rock, blues, Brazilian, and Afro-Cuban music, Ng joined Guille and the B. Band and built on his already-impressive repertoire while touring the Caribbean aboard the MSC Divina cruise ship. Ng supplements his performance career by teaching piano, music theory, arranging, sequencing, and production. Watch Ng perform Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” with fellow students in Berklee’s Shames Family Scoring Stage.
A music therapy major from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Leah Weigel has worked as a peer advisor at Berklee, participated in the college’s slam poetry team, and harnessed the therapeutic powers of music in venues such as the outpatient cancer facility at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital and internationally at the Ranjagarnida Institute for Child Development in Chiang Mai, Thailand. At the latter, Weigel worked with children with disabilities and emotional disorders, building on her previous experience as a volunteer at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. Weigel blogged about her experiences, noting, “Music transcends all differences, whether it’s an extra chromosome, a neurodivergence, language barriers, or cultural differences. How powerful is that?!”
From Chicago, Illinois, composer Elijah Smith studied music at Boston Conservatory at Berklee after prior studies at the Merit School of Music, the Brevard Music Center, the Chicago High School for the Arts, and the School of Rock. Smith writes music for orchestra, chamber and vocal ensembles, film, dance, and theater. While at the Conservatory, he became the youngest composer to be commissioned by the Chicago-area’s West Suburban Symphony Society, delivering an original orchestral piece. He was also commissioned to write a large chamber piece to celebrate the merger of Berklee and Boston Conservatory. This year, Smith was recognized by the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, which selected him to participate in its Young Composer’s Initiative.
A producer, audio engineer, and singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, music production and engineering major Belinda Huang spent much of her time at Berklee helping her fellow students succeed—as a peer advisor and as a producer in her own Launch Studios, which she founded to help up-and-coming artists. Huang contributed to the Berklee community with a stint as editor of the Berklee Groove and made many editorial contributions to Berklee’s website and blog. On the heels of a student trip to Silicon Valley, Huang plans to return to L.A. to advance her career.
Listen to a track coproduced and mixed by Huang:
At Berklee, Huang says, “the challenges I faced actually became catalysts for me to discover both who I am and who I am not—forging a vision, strength, and resilience that will propel me into the next chapter of my life.”
For Huang, and for all of the class of 2017, that chapter begins now, and the bonds they forged as students assure that they will write it together.