Saxophonist Edmar Noé Colón Gierbolini has known since middle school that music is his calling and since high school that he wanted to study at Berklee. A dual major in classical composition and performance originally from Coamo, Puerto Rico, he has been a student with the Berklee Global Jazz Institute for seven of his nine semesters and a work-study assistant there for an eighth. Although he came to Boston open-minded and ready for the energy and education he has found at Berklee, he didn’t foresee the ways in which the BGJI would change his life, both as a musician and as a person. As he says, “I think that [the professors]—more than they care for the music and they care for what they do—they care for us because they know that by caring for us, they’re also taking care of the music and the future of society as well.”
How would you describe your music before you started working with the professors, the artists in residence, and the other students at the BGJI?
Before coming, the vision I’ve been learning in my time being at the BGJI wasn’t clear. The music is more than the technique, more than us; the music is a bigger thing with the potential to carry this very powerful message. With that also came certain elements that I couldn’t see because I was focused on something else that wasn’t the main idea, the main belief that music is a powerful tool for social change, for the social environment, and all these things that we talk about and practice and develop at the BGJI.
Can you say a little bit about how your personal voice has been informed by your time with the BGJI?
I got into my second semester, I was fresh from Puerto Rico, coming [with] a shallow vision, and it was just like a molding work that they did with me and with most of the students; it was very particular, very personal. The teaching isn’t like, okay, this is the curriculum, we’re going to teach you; it’s particular to the person. This is how it was with me and with everybody; they notice my weak points, my struggles, my learning, my personality, and they work on it in a very particular [way]. That’s the thing that is very particular, not only in the playing, the facts, and the knowledge of music, but in the striving to be a better human being every day. It is truly a blessing; that’s how I feel, and that’s how the people here feel.
How do you think you’ll take this experience and the knowledge that you have from the BGJI and apply it to your future as a musician, as an artist?
Like Danilo [Pérez] says sometimes, like Marco [Pignataro] says, when you have a talent, when you have an ability, when you have something genuine from above, you have a responsibility. You have a weight you have to carry on; it’s like carrying the flag. It took me a long time to feel the reality of this responsibility that I was carrying. And this is not only when I’m playing music. This is also when I pursue myself as an artist or as a student. I have this responsibility that has been passed on to me that is teaching me to carry this message of peace. [I will] continue to do music, but in this way, and continue to pass this message through to the younger generations [and] also continue expanding this through my own personal work. It’s like a handed-down tradition of knowledge and responsibility. Music is not the same to me now. Music is now the means to transport a message that is bigger than us. But the music, which is the vessel, has to be very strong, because if the music is not strong, the message cannot be carried. So, it’s like unity happening: if the music is strong, the message is strong.
Watch the Edmar Colón Trio perform: