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Born in Serbia and raised in Canada, Jelena Ciric started her music career studying classical voice and piano, and completed a bachelor of music degree in classical singing at the University of Toronto. After some time performing and teaching, Ciric decided to expand her musical horizons by pursuing a Master of Music in Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) degree at Berklee College of Music’s campus in Valencia, where she was a scholarship recipient and commencement speaker for her graduating class.
During her time at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, she developed her voice as a singer-songwriter, which culminated in a debut EP of original songs, Places, released in May 2015. Her music pays homage to the rich, traditional music of her native Serbia, and the songwriting tradition of Canada, where she grew up. While still a student in Valencia, she was chosen to record a duet with Placido Domingo, No potho reposare, which can be heard on his album Encanto del Mar: Mediterranean Songs. Today, Ciric is a passionate teacher, and the current director of voice at JazzUV, the jazz faculty of the University of Veracruz in Mexico, where she teaches private lessons, vocal ensembles, and group classes.
Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Music in Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) degree at the Berklee campus in Valencia?
I wasn’t set on doing a master’s. It was a step that I had considered, but for a long time I didn’t find a program out there that combined the practical experience, level of musical excellence, and creative flexibility that I was looking for. When I discovered the Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) master’s degree program at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, I knew it was meant to be.
How did your time at Berklee’s campus in Valencia shape your vision of music?
It cultivated my respect for all aspects of the music industry: production, business, and composition, as well as performance. I built up practical knowledge in many areas that had been blanks for me before. This helped me understand the global music community in a more profound way, and equipped me to contribute to it more creatively.
Tell us about your work as director of the voice department at JazzUV, Veracruz, Mexico, and how Berklee prepared you for it.
JazzUV is the jazz faculty at the University of Veracruz, a top-ranked school in Mexico. We run a bachelor program and a three-year diploma program. I teach private voice lessons, group classes in vocal performance, and vocal ensembles. JazzUV is one of very few jazz programs in Mexico, and a fairly new one, which means that I’ve had the chance to develop the voice curriculum. When deciding what skills are necessary for our students to forge a vibrant career in music, I’ve definitely drawn on my experiences at Berklee and the Berklee model. Whether it’s materials, repertoire choices, career advice: some aspect of my Berklee experience reaches my students every day.
How has your Berklee experience influenced you as a professional?
Beyond the practical knowledge that helped me hone my craft as a musician, my experience at Berklee’s campus in Valencia gave me a level of confidence in my work that I did not have before. Of course, the best part about Berklee’s influence is that it is continuous: when you graduate, you remain a part of the Berklee family. This huge, international community is a continuous source of learning, support, and collaborative possibilities. I continue to collaborate creatively with the people I met in Valencia. It was also Berklee faculty who connected me to the music teaching position I hold today.
What was the best aspect about the experience at Berklee’s campus in Valencia?
If I really have to choose, I’d have to say the atmosphere of the campus. There is an incredible energy created by a tight-knit community of talented, driven artists who are all working toward the same goal and supporting each other on the journey. I felt that the faculty, staff, and my peers at Berklee were all as invested in my success as I was, and that’s a feeling that gives you an unbelievable propulsion.
Is there anything else you'd like share with us?
I’m constantly told that I seem too young to be a professor. It’s not something I thought I’d achieve for another five or 10 years. My experience at Berklee’s campus in Valencia got me the job before I had even [completed my graduate program]. It catapulted my career.