Meet Berklee's 2016–2017 Presidential Scholars

October 13, 2016
Serena Harnack
Armir Lee
Max Holm
Soojung Lee
Ethan Santos
Domitille Degalle
Kyu Hyun “Kevin” Kim
courtesy of the scholars

Seven first-semester students were awarded Berklee's Presidential Scholarship this year, allowing them to attend Berklee for four years at no cost to them or their families—all tuition, housing, and fees provided. This program—the first of its kind at a music school—recognizes young talent all over the world and all over the musical spectrum. Read on to learn more about them. 

Serena Harnack

Serena Harnack is an award-winning, classically trained violinist and singer-songwriter who rocks on electric 4 and 5 string. She has soloed with orchestras across the United States, earned concertmaster multiple times, is a Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition silver medalist, and is a 2016 National YoungArts Foundation winner. When she was 4, Harnack began the Suzuki violin method, quickly advancing through the program. In 2010, she moved on to the prestigious Music Institute of Chicago (MIC) Academy, where she studied with world-renowned violinist Almita Vamos. Harnack has performed with and for many famous artists, including Rachel Barton Pine, Yo-Yo Ma, Brian Lewis, Mark Wood, André Previn, Ilya Kaler, and Mark O'Connor. She won her first local competition at age 5 and her first national competition at age 8. When she was 10, Harnack was concertmaster of the Suzuki Youth Orchestra of the Americas, the Youth Symphony of DuPage, the MIC Academy, and the Illinois Music Educators Association (IMEA) All-State Orchestra. Additionally, she has been featured on Introductions, a WMFT radio show that highlights Chicago-area musicians.

Armir Lee

Armir Lee began playing alto saxophone in fifth grade when he was 10. His education and focus were primarily devoted to classical music; however, he also was active in his middle school jazz band. By eighth grade, Lee was studying jazz with more direction, focusing specifically on improvisation. He placed second chair in the All-City Band and first chair in the Region Band. As a student at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) in Houston, Texas, Lee studied jazz extensively. He received invaluable instruction from teachers and peers, and began playing tenor saxophone. In ninth grade, Lee formed a jazz quartet that played at various venues for corporate events and fundraisers. In his sophomore year, he placed second chair in the Region Jazz Band and received the outstanding soloist award at the Moores School of Music Jazz Festival. In 2015, he placed first chair in the Region Jazz Band.

Max Holm

Max Holm grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, where he began studying classical violin at age 6. He was inspired to switch instruments and genres at 14 after witnessing a captivating performance by pianist Keith Jarrett. Holm received the outstanding soloist award at the 2014 Essentially Ellington Competition & Festival, was the first U.S. high school student to be awarded the Jazz Education Network (JEN) Founders Scholarship in 2015, and was the only pianist chosen for the 2014 Jazz Band of America. As a member of Utah's Crescent Super Band, he recorded an album with the Grammy Award–winning Jeff Coffin, Branford Marsalis, Victor Wooten, among others, that quickly reached no. 1 on iTunes' most downloaded jazz albums list. Holm has performed with many jazz greats, including Wynton Marsalis, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, and Kirk Whalum. He has composed music for a web series, a short film, and a television commercial. He enjoys playing the melodica and singing, and is also learning to tap dance. Holm recently completed a fellowship at the exclusive Brubeck Institute in Stockton, California.

Soojung Lee

When Soojung Lee was an infant, she lost the sight in her left eye when stricken with craniosynostosis. Despite this hardship, she began learning piano when she was 8 and saxophone when she was 10. After an appearance on the South Korean television show Star King at age 11, she became well known and received many opportunities to play on stage. As her interests leaned toward saxophone, she became drawn to jazz. By age 12, she was studying in earnest from prominent Korean jazz musician Jeeseok Kim. In 2014, she performed at prisons and youth detention centers with her service group. She also entered the Young Chang Competition, receiving first prize for her original composition. Additionally, she began attending Seoul Jazz Academy (SJA) on a full scholarship, studying music theory and taking ensemble classes in various genres of music. In 2015, she performed at the Inter-American Development Bank conference in Busan, South Korea, with SJA students and Los Rumberos de Massachusetts from Berklee. She also performed in Korean and American friendship events with SJA instructors and students.

Ethan Santos

Ethan Santos played euphonium in the wind ensemble, trombone in the symphony orchestra, and tenor trombone in the top jazz band and jazz combo as a student at Buchanan High School in Fresno, California. He began playing trombone at age 12, and has loved it ever since. Santos currently studies with Scott Whitfield, and has studied with Luis Bonilla, Wycliffe Gordon, Bob McChesney, Erik Hughes, Ryan Dragon, and Les Nunes. As a performer, he has played with the Fresno Philharmonic, Donny McCaslin, Mark and Alan Ferber, Josh Nelson, Jim Snidero, Shaun Martin, Hubert Laws, Ted Nash, Wynton Marsalis, and many others. Santos has been a part of various ensembles, including the Fresno-Madera County Honor Band, Honor Orchestra, and Honor Jazz Band; the California All-State Concert Band, Symphony Orchestra, and Jazz Band; the 2015 Vail Jazz Festival All-Stars; the 2015 Next Generation Jazz Orchestra; and the 2015 and 2016 Grammy Camp—Jazz Session. Additionally, he was awarded honorable mention in jazz trombone by the National YoungArts Foundation in 2016.

Domitille Degalle

Domitille Degalle was born in Nancy, France, to a family of music lovers. She was immediately immersed in the music world by her parents, who enrolled her in music lessons at age 2. She found great ease in playing music, studying classical music and jazz. These two styles allowed her to develop strong technique and musicality, and also to improvise using every kind of sheet music laying around. She entered the Conservatory of Nancy at age 5 for classical training and at age 8 for jazz lessons. She was granted diplomas with highest honors at age 14 (for jazz) and 15 (for classical). At the same time, her curiosity pushed her to pursue and complete many other courses: music history, analysis, classical accompaniment (for dance and song), composition, counterpoint, and arrangement—all with honors. During this period, she studied the works of Kenny Barron, Chick Corea, and Wynton Kelly, and transcribed instrument solos by Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, Miles Davis, and Stan Getz. 

While attending lessons, she was regularly called upon to play concerts in festivals with her band, the Domitille Degalle Trio, founded in 2011 with two other conservatory students. She also founded the Robusto Latin Quintet in 2013, which covered famous tunes from the Latin jazz repertoire. At age 15, she auditioned for the prestigious National Superior Conservatory of Paris. She was one of three pianists selected to enter the department, directed by Riccardo Del Fra. These studies helped deepen her grasp of the jazz tradition, and allowed her to discover free improvisation and experimental creations. In Paris, she met many new musicians and took part in master classes with Billy Hart, Ben Monder, Ethan Iverson, Ralph Alessi, and Dan Tepfer, among others.

Kyu Hyun "Kevin" Kim

Kevin Kim first picked up the saxophone at age 9 after discovering a Stan Getz mixtape; he was completely mesmerized by Getz’s untouchable tone and beautiful melodies. Kim began lessons at school, and was chosen to participate in his middle school's senior concert band as a fifth-grader. He considered the opportunity a challenge to play at his highest capability, and was ultimately selected to participate in the Junior North Region Honor Band throughout middle school. A switch to a new teacher at Mahwah (New Jersey) High School triggered his passion to study jazz and improvisation. He continued to challenge himself by successfully auditioning for the Senior North Regional and All-State Honor bands for classical and jazz throughout high school. He was selected as first chair in the New Jersey All-State Band and All-State Jazz Ensemble. At the beginning of his senior year, he spent a weekend in Atlantic City with the All-State Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Conrad Herwig. Working with such talented musicians and having so many opportunities to play for audiences made him realize the importance of music in his life; soon thereafter, he withdrew his application to the United States Military Academy to pursue a music career.