This summer I was more than fortunate to attend the world renowned Berklee College of Music. I never got round to writing about my experience there and feel it would be good to add some tips and advice for those interested in applying.
Firstly I would say, if you can afford the trip then I would say 100% go. Any experience to go and study abroad stretches far beyond just what you learn in the classroom of the institution your in. This is just to recount a few of the things I got up to and the people I met.
In the first initial stage after deciding you would like to attend Berklee you can apply to the summer school directly on their website. The application is very friendly and once the initial fees have been confirmed they send you everything you need, from booklets, to information on visa applications, to actual directions from the airport and highways.
The longest and most draining part of the entire process is the U.S Visa Application. Which you are required to have to enter the United States. As I'm from the UK I had to attend an interview in the U.S Embassy in order to finalise the visa. I would say don't be put off by the amount of paperwork and the interview stage, these are just minor set backs to the overall experience.
Once that has all gone through you can start to look at your flights and prepare to go!
In order to prepare fully for the first phase I would advise;
- Don't be afraid to e-mail the summer program department at Berklee numerous amounts of times. They are there to help you and they are used to answering even the most basic questions ,from flights to class timetables.
- Create a Berklee folder from day 1. This was an idea of my mums. From the first initial e-mail to your visa files to your flight tickets, print everything! Then save it on your laptop and store the print outs in your folder so you have two copies of everything. Luckily Berklee have a list of the things you need to bring and other practical things to travel with so you can just print that and tick off each item once you have done it. It is much better to have too much information than not enough.
- If you can, fly into Boston a few days before you start. This will help you feel more relaxed. When you know your bearings (however brief) you naturally feel more comfortable in any place. Go for a walk around the shops and parks and locate Berklee if possible so you know where about it is.
Halls and Classes
Having a roommate was a complete new experience for me, especially as I have not slept in a bunk bed since I was 5 years old. Luckily Berklee actually listen to the applications and room you with, Someone your age (or close to) and Someone with the same instrument. So naturally there will be a lot to talk about.
Again luckily my roommate spoke great english, played the drums and was also 20. He was also one of the nicest, funniest guys I've met, which made the entire experience a lot easier.
I was located in the 270 Commonwealth Avenue halls which were for over 18's only. This was cool as you were not surrounded by younger teens who had never been left alone in halls before and the halls were off campus.
Classes started on the Monday after the introductory weekend talks and information. This is where we picked up our schedules and met most of the staff. As you pick what classes you would like to attend you actually look forward to getting up and studying your instrument on a Monday morning. As far as classes are concerned I would say to:
- Ask and ask again questions you have been wondering or questions as they come to you to your teachers and especially instrumental tutors. Thats what they are there for. They have a wealth of knowledge that you are paying for and never be afraid to ask a question you might feel is stupid or of no worth.
- Try not to get drawn in to the 'Music College' competition system. Competition is good as long as its healthy. You are not there to compete with every music student there to become the best. You are there to leave a better musician than you came. Keep this in mind at all times. There will be many talented musicians and if you like their style or the way they play try to incorporate the things you like into your own playing rather than trying to compete with them.
- Talk to the full time Berklee students. Ask them their advice and get to know them. They are extremely valuable in knowledge and in their playing skills and overall are very nice open musicians willing to help the '5 weekers'.
Making the Most of it
Making the most of the trip is the most important thing to think about. Spend time with the friends you meet and socialise as much as possible. Say yes to every opportunity to jam or hang out or sit with people at the cafeteria. The more people you meet the better.
Boston has a lot to offer in terms of activities and music. It also has amazing greenery and a thriving sport community. I was extremely lucky to attend the biggest rivalry in baseball. The Boston Red Sox vs The New York Yankees. Among that experience I went Kayaking on the Charles River, visited Harvard University and visited the coastline.
Things to do:
- Baseball. The Boston Redsox stadium is extremely close to the Berklee campus and commonwealth avenue, the stadium is fantastic and the atmosphere is even better. Take a tour, go to see a game and visit the humungous shop ! An all round amazing experience plus tickets are pretty cheap.
- Kayaking. There is a kayaking dock about 40 minutes away from campus if your walking but totally worth the trip. You get the best views of the Boston and Cambridge skyline and its a nice break from class on the weekends.
- Cafe 939 and the Caf Shows. Take advantage of all the music gigs that are available. There are loads of Caf shows and loads of gigs at Cafe 939 that will hugely benefit you and will influence your music in ways you didn't think of.
- Visit the parks. The parks at the end of Commonwealth Avenue are gorgeous. Grab a handmade lemonade and watch the world go by.
- Visit Cambridge. Two of the best universities in the world are on the other side of Berklee. MIT and Harvard. You pass MIT on the way to the Kayaking port but Harvard is a subway ride away. It was one of the best experiences of the entire trip. I would strongly advise the Harvard University Tour run by current students at Harvard. They give you an extremely in depth knowledgable tour that you would get with no other company.
- Socialise. Go to the open mics, go to the caf shows and the Berklee Performance Centre and meet as many people as you can. You will find people who inspire you and your music and make friends you never thought you would have.
- Practice. As your there and being taught by the best music teachers on the planet you will definitely want to impress them. This comes from practicing what they give you. Once you go to the practice rooms it's hard to leave anyway, as everyone you will get to know will be booking rooms every day and this will keep you focused to practice.
People I Would Like to Thank
Just a short list of the many people I met there. The people mentioned were in my close group. A huge thank you to everyone who I met though mentioned or not. But here they are:
- Sebastian Diaz - The first person I met who turned out to be the best roommate I could have ever asked for and someone I will remember for life. Also bravest person I met.
- Mathéo Techer - One of the youngest but best musicians and people I met out there. Also kept me working hard after seeing him in practice.
- Begoña Cors - The loveliest third musketeer I know. Put up with both my roommate and myself for over 6 weeks but loved every minute of it.
- Luke Stanton - One of the coolest guitar players and truest guy I've met for a long time. Also a huge Ben Howard fan.
- Hannah and Annie - Can't name one without the other. Amazing girls and musicians alike.
- Matteo Ruperto - Insane composer and musician. Amazingly smart and nice guy too.
- Nico D-V - Very talented songwriter and guitarist who I hope goes a long way. Loved his songs and attitude. Someone who was nice from day one and the same by the end of the 5th week.
- Andrew Peck - Hands down the nicest full time Berklee student I met. Hard worker and overall great person. Someone who gave me a lot of sound advice and inspired me with his playing. Also put up with a lot of questions about nothing half the time.
Others: Sarahi and Antal. Matt Dapsit. Nik Lukassen. Oliver and George. La Baguette (Jean-Phillippe Koch). Carlos Calvo. Noëlle. Eduardo.
Thanks to all. Make sure to check out my songs of the week as I post!