Q&A with Viktorija Pilatovic, Jazz Vocal Performance Teacher at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador
Berklee Alumna Viktorija Pilatovic is a singer and jazz vocalist currently teaching at USFQ College of Music in Ecuador. Photo courtesy of Viktorija Pilatovic.
Born in Klaipeda, Lithuania in 1989, Pilatovic was trained to be a piano player until she discovered jazz. That led her to the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater, and later to Prins Claus Conservatorium in The Netherlands, where she got a dual major in Jazz Performance and Arranging. After graduating with a Master of Music in Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) at Berklee’s campus in Valencia in 2013, Pilatovic became assistant professor of Jazz Vocal Performance at USFQ College of Music in Ecuador, part of Berklee College of Music’s International Network (BIN). Pilatovic has performed with and been involved in projects with Victor Wooten, Ravi Coltrane and Wallace Roney, to name but a few. Having launched her debut album with Greg Osby’s Inner Circle Music label in 2013, she is now completing her second recording, filled with original songs, and planning its release soon.
Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Music in Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) at Berklee's campus in Valencia?
After graduating from Prince Claus Conservatorium (PCC) in The Netherlands, I was chosen to attend the AEC Pop and Jazz conference in Lille, France, to represent PCC students’ view on Jazz Education in European Conservatories. There I met María Iturriaga, dean of Admissions and associate executive director at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, who told me about the Contemporary Performance program, and I applied immediately.
What opportunities did you have, being at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, that you may not have had otherwise?
First of all, I was granted a full scholarship, which gave me the opportunity to complete the program and consequently to perform with great artists like Abraham Laboriel and Victor Wooten, with who I played an original song from my first album,—We Could Solve That,— [at] a concert that sold out in Valencia. Secondly, I was very lucky to study with Polo Orti, Israel Sandoval, Perico Sambeat, Celia Mur, Alain Pérez, and other great professionals who have had a huge impact on my musical development. I am specially thankful to Victor Mendoza, who was immensely supportive and encouraging since day one.
You released your first album, Nica's Blues, in November 2013. Is there something you want to share with us about the experience?
I recorded Nica’s Blues as a project for my master’s degree. The album is named after my middle name, Nica. All the songs included in it were written and arranged by me, and I recorded it with Alberto Palau on the piano, Ales Cesarini on the bass, and Mariano Steimberg on the drums. I was later on performing at Valencia’s well-known Jimmy Glass Jazz Bar when Greg Osby walked in and offered me a deal with his record label Inner Circle Music. All in all it was a great learning experience, working with incredible engineers and musicians at state-of-the-art studios at Berklee’s campus in Valencia.
How did your time at Berklee’s campus in Valencia shape your music?
Having classmates from all over the world brought countless opportunities to be exposed to a variety of musical genres; I think I am still digesting everything they taught me. I was definitely a jazz nerd when I arrived, and after one year I felt my horizons had expanded and broadened. I learned the importance of respecting all musical styles and I got the courage to learn them. Watching other people’s creation processes also had an influence on my approach to music.
Tell us a little bit about your current position as a jazz vocal performance teacher at USFQ in Ecuador.
I’m learning so much! I am teaching some classes like jazz repertoire, developing inner hearing, harmony, theory, improvisation, and sometimes arranging. The workload is enormous and I feel I have grown as a person and also developed a teaching technique that works. I see a very tangible progress on my students, which is my biggest goal.
What about teaching in a different continent is challenging, fascinating and/or worth experiencing?
I definitely became a nicer person: everyone here’s so friendly and polite! Working in an environment with people who are very different to each other, some very extroverted and some more shy, is... a growing experience and I’m learning a lot from it. As per the country, Ecuador’s biggest challenge is its altitude! I’m now used to it, but at the beginning, moving around was quite hard, not to mention singing! It felt like there is [not enough] air up here!
What is your fondest memory of your time at Berklee’s campus in Valencia?
Practicing while facing the beautiful Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, staying at the studios until late, brainstorming with my classmates for each next performance, and of course, the livelihood and culture of Valencia, including its music scene and passion for a good fiesta.
Why would you tell other students to come to Berklee’s campus in Valencia to study Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration)?
It is a very intense one-year [graduate] program, which provides the best facilities and a faculty... who goes out of its way to take your music to another level, as well as the opportunity to spend as much time as you want at one of the best recording studios in Europe.