Dominican Scholarship Recipient Fulfilling Dreams at Berklee
Pauly Germán taps a beat with his hands on the counter as he talks. The rhythm never stops, like him. At age 21, the pianist is in his second year at Berklee College of Music after winning a full scholarship in 2014 from his native Dominican Republic through his participation in Berklee on the Road. He’s immersed in his classes, entranced with the culture and diversity of Berklee, and eager to share all this with his fellow countrymen. Even the hard work thrills him: “When I’m doing music, I’m having fun,” says Germán.
Berklee on the Road is an educational program that started in the ‘80s to promote the Berklee experience internationally and to bolster Berklee recruitment in the U.S. and abroad. In the Dominican Republic, the program is augmented by a Ministry of Culture grant that helps provide for more than 180 students to study in Santo Domingo every January with Berklee professors. Germán was in the 2014 program, and during the session, he was chosen for the scholarship through the college’s audition and interview process and faculty evaluation.
Speaking in the lobby of 7 Haviland recently, Germán says he started studying music when he was 6, but really began in earnest in high school. “A light went on,” he says, when he discovered that “the harmony of songs depended on the chords“ he had learned at a young age. After starting with the flute, he moved on to be a pianist, playing jazz, funk, Latin, and fusion. “Really all of it,” he says.
For Germán, the chance to study at Berklee fulfilled several dreams. He’s long been involved in music with his family in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and after studying at the National Conservatory of Music in Santo Domingo, he knew he wanted to pursue a music career. But he also was studying English and hoped to study in the United States. A director of popular music at the conservatory, who is also a Berklee alumnus, suggested that he try for a scholarship through the Berklee on the Road program. To Germán, it seemed like a long shot. “I didn’t think I’d get it," he says, laughing at the memory of his surprise when the scholarship was announced.
Immersed in a New Musical Community
Now, in the rich milieu of Berklee, where he’s majoring in contemporary writing and production, Germán says he’s “humbled, honored and...blessed to be part of this community.” The dedication of the students and faculty amazes him, and he’s thrilled with the opportunity to both study with musical authorities and to play with such talented musicians. In one of his first classes, he discovered that his teacher wrote the harmony textbook the students were using. He loves collaborating with other students from all over the world in class ensembles and in a band he’s organizing.
Berklee on the Road offers students the opportunity to experience Berklee-style classes, typically over a three- to five-day period, everywhere from Los Angeles to Italy to Puerto Rico to China, with lectures, labs, master classes, ensembles, workshops, and live performances. A varying number of scholarships are granted after auditions during the sessions. The Santo Domingo program is one of the newer ones, says Amanda Gouldthorpe, assistant director—Berklee on the Road and Special Programs, but adds that, “Everyone [from Berklee] was blown away by the level of talent” from the Dominican students.
Still, says Germán, musicians are not very valued in his culture. “There’s a joke in my country,” he says wryly: “Oh, you’re a musician? What do you do for a living?”
He hopes to be able to help change that perception. A degree from Berklee will give him certification, he says, “important in my country,” so that he can eventually realize his goal to teach music at a high level.
Meanwhile, he’s settling into both Berklee and Boston, despite disliking the winter weather. His time is filled with classes, practices, and involvement with the Berklee musical community. “I didn’t know that I was going to be able to know so many cultures,” he says. “If I want to know how to play a samba, I can find a Brazilian to teach it.”
Germán is determined to share the richness of the experience with other Dominicans. Gouldthorpe praises Germán for his outgoing, upbeat personality that made him a perfect “student ambassador” last January in the Santo Domingo program where he served as a student assistant. “He’s a great example of what a student can accomplish.”