Five-Week Student Takes Dreamlike Experience Back to Russia

Kimberly Ashton
August 15, 2013
Kamilla Pluzhnikov
Photo by Kimberly Ashton

Back in her native Moscow, Kamilla Pluzhnikova had been working her way through Russia's rigorous music education program since she was a child, training as a classical and jazz pianist while teaching herself guitar and taking private lessons for voice. But all the while, she said, she had an eye on Berklee College of Music, a school that was a bit of a mystery to her but yet held an abiding allure.

In the summer of 2012, Pluzhnikova attended two weeklong workshops at Berklee's Valencia campus, and this summer she made her way to Berklee's Five-Week Program in Boston to study voice and pop/rock. During her last week of classes, Pluzhnikova, 23, shared her thoughts on inspiration, Berklee, and the differences between learning music in Russia and in the United States. The following is a condensed and edited version of that conversation.


When did you first hear about Berklee and why did you want to attend the Five-Week program?

I dreamt about Berklee since I heard about it. I was maybe 17, and I decided that I would definitely come here and see these people, because many of my favorite musicians—Esperanza Spalding, Hiromi Uehara—are from here. Berklee is really famous in Russia—its methods, the teaching system—although we don't know anything about what's happening inside. And it was really interesting how it is.

I applied for pop/rock because you can be a good musician in some spheres but if you can't switch from one direction to another it's not so good. I really understand jazz, I love jazz, but I wanted to know how rock functions, how pop music functions. So I applied to the field that is not so familiar to me.

Your first experience with Berklee was at our Valencia, Spain, campus. How did that affect your decision to apply to the Five-Week Program?

I went to Berklee Valencia last summer and I realized that everything I was taught in two years (in Russia) I was taught in three days (in Valencia). It was a really cool sensation.

After that I thought that I have to go here, because I had such a great experience in Valencia and with Berklee faculty and their approach to us. They inspired me so much that I came back and I wrote 16 songs in half a year. It's like they gave us a direction to move forward. And I decided that I have to go to (the Boston campus), because it's the heart.

How has the Berklee experience been different from your music schools in Russia?

In Russia, we have a very strong classical tradition but we also have a very different way of treating people. There is no encouragement. There is very, very strong discipline but it's very tough, personally. There will be nobody to help you and to encourage you. I don't think that I had any inspiration during my classes. I attended my music school because I really needed to write better, to compose better. But in my classes of theory, in my classes of solfege, I couldn't tell that it's a part of music.

I was fascinated here that everybody is talking about the art of giving, of sharing. You have to give your music, and not try to get something from somebody.

What were some of the best things about the Five-Week Program for you?

As I am 23 years old, I was a bit surprised when I came here and I saw so many teenagers, but after some time I realized a beautiful thing: there is no age here. When you come here you are stepping into a parallel universe. The rules are pretty different here. It's not important where you're from, the most important thing is the thing you have inside, the sincerity with which you play your music, the talent you have.

The chances that you will be involved in something interesting, that you would be involved in some project, they are so high and I will very much miss this sensation that you can have everything, if you want. They give us this sensation of a dream here—the dream that we really can do the things we always wanted to do, the things we were inspired to do.

It's also a big bubble. I will miss walking on the street and hearing "I will have a concert tonight," and, in the next step, from the left, "We will record at 3:00," and in the next step, from the right, "I bought new strings," and in the next step, "I'm thinking about our new album." Everybody is talking about music, everybody is carrying his own instrument. It's an ideal universe.

In addition to continuing your job as a Spanish interpreter, what's next for you?

When I return to Russia, I will record my album. I will do the same things I was doing but on another level. Another level of dealing with people—thanks to Berklee—another level of making new music, of dealing with other musicians. The only thing you really can do as a musician is to work, to improve your practice skills, to improve your songwriting skills. I will also definitely start to write in English. I need the international listeners, too. I really want to become a full-time musician.