Cristina Vaira '13: Getting Back to What Matters

Adam Renn Olenn
April 11, 2014
Cristina Vaira '13
Photo credit: Alejandro Ramirez Cisneros

Most performers have had nightmares about bombing in front of a panel of celebrity judges, but for one Berklee alumna, it was a dream come true.

Cristian Vaira, a native of Italy, earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master's degree in recording industry communications from the Catholic University of Milan before earning a scholarship to Berklee. “When I came [to Berklee],” she says, “I wanted to be a famous singer-songwriter. This is where so many of my idols went, and I really wanted to follow that path.” However, something was amiss, and Vaira found her confidence slipping away. “It was so difficult,” she says, “and thinking about how I was not confident was making it harder to learn in my classes.”

It all came to a head on the talent game show The X Factor, during which Vaira’s confidence deserted her and she turned in a performance that was far from her best. “At first I was devastated,” she says, “because no performer wants to do that. But I really needed it because it made me realize I wasn’t happy, and that I was very far from myself. This is why I didn’t feel good, feel confident.”

Vaira undertook some serious self-examination, questioning even her foundational beliefs. “I thought about who my heroes were, like Whitney Houston. She was treated badly in her marriage, addicted to drugs, and she had problems with alcohol. She wasn’t happy. Why did I want that life for myself?” It occurred to Vaira that she hoped to be happy, but wasn’t actually taking any concrete steps to make it so.

“I began to meditate and do yoga and schedule time to be quiet and mindful,” she says. “I realized that I could learn to be happy just like you learn to play an instrument.” The efforts paid off, and Vaira reports that she has regained her confidence both on stage and at the writing desk. And the benefits don’t stop there.

“One of the things I learned is that giving to others fills you with energy,” she says. “You would think that giving of yourself would empty you, but it’s the opposite.” One of the ways Vaira is giving of herself is through Art For Heart, an organization she founded with music therapy student Yoojin Jung to help artists focus on their happiness so it can manifest in their art, rather than simply hoping art will make them happy. With Art for Heart, Vaira has produced a series of self-help videos for Berklee students, and has brought musical groups to senior centers as a public service, for which she was recently given Berklee’s Urban Service Award by the Office of Community Affairs and Campus Engagement. 

“I’ve been working with Berklee faculty on this, including Eugene Friesen, Pratt Bennett, and Karen Wacks,” says Vaira. “We are making a video series to help people and planning an event at the Loft in Cafe 939 for Berklee students to come and learn these things.” Depending on how her visa application shakes out, she is considering establishing Art for Heart as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization so she can devote herself more fully to expanding both her happiness and that of those around her.