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Berklee’s Graduate Performance Program Takes Musicians to the Next Level

Jana Šušteršič performing at Un Lago de Conciertos in the City of Arts and Sciences. Photo by Histeria Producciones

By the time she came to Berklee’s graduate performance program in Valencia last fall, Jana Šušteršič had spent eight years fronting one of Serbia’s most popular bands, Neverne Bebe. Halfway through the academic year, she sang Adele's “Rolling in the Deep” to win Slovenia’s Got Talent. But it was what she learned while in the year-long master’s degree program that she calls “the culmination of everything I’ve wanted as a musician.”

“Berklee changed my life,” says Šušteršič, who finished her bachelor’s degree from Berklee while a study abroad student at the college’s Valencia campus before starting the master's degree program there. “I feel more prepared than ever, confident in my ideas and inner voice, comfortable with my identity and inspired by my newly found musical togetherness.”

The performance program not only allowed her to define herself as an artist, but it also it gave her an opportunity to compose music for the first time and helped her realize her interest in teaching. Šušteršič recently returned to Slovenia to build her career and maybe look toward starting a music school there. "Berklee opens up so many different paths," she says. "They teach you so many different things that you maybe didn't even know you had a passion for."

Watch Šušteršič's performance at the finale of Slovenia's Got Talent:

Growing Their Skills

The master of music in contemporary performance program (production concentration) trains students to realize their artistic identities by exposing them to new techniques and styles. "The thing I love about Berklee is that the way they approach you is not generalized," Šušteršič says. "They pay attention, they look for the key in everyone, because we are all so different."

The program doesn’t focus on any one genre, but seeks students from varied backgrounds who are looking to take their musicianship to the next level. (The master’s degree program in performance on the Boston campus focuses on global jazz.)

"This is not a place to come to learn what you're doing," says Brian Cole, the Valencia campus’ dean of academic affairs. "It's a place to really refine what you're doing."

In addition to the private instruction and ensemble work that helps them deepen their mastery of their genres, students on the Valencia campus study music production on state-of-the-art equipment so that they can understand all that’s possible in the studio and know how to produce their own projects or the work of others.

Watch Šušteršič's profile video as a Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) master's degree student at Berklee's campus in Valencia:

“The sum of the parts is so great, so that’s a very distinctive advantage. Students are really inventing new areas for themselves. There’s a strong entrepreneurial spirit,” says Cole. During the 2014–2015 year, Cole also temporarily served as the performance program’s director, a position Casey Driessen assumed this summer.

Another edge the program has is its proximity to the other high-level disciplines on the Valencia campus, which also offers master’s degree programs in film scoring, music business, and music technology. Each program has 40 students or fewer, which allows students to get to know not only those in their particular course of study, but also those in other fields as well.

"No other place has all these high-level programs operating together," says Cole. "It's very collaborative, there are a lot of cross projects."

Surrounded by her many friends from the four graduate programs on campus, Šušteršič took the stage to close the commencement concert—and the Berklee chapter in her life—in July, a performance that she calls "an incredible honor." Now, she says, after years spent as a front woman, she's ready to take the lead in her career.

See Šušteršič perform at the commencement concert:

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