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When Berklee chose Spain for its first international campus, one of the elements in the decision was the proximity to the rich musical and artistic traditions rooted around the Mediterranean rim. And when the college settled on Valencia, administrators knew one thing: They couldn't possibly skip Flamenco. The opportunity to draw from regional masters in the style was just too important.
Directed by composer and producer Javier Limón, artistic director of the institute and visiting professor at Berklee in Boston, the rest of the faculty comprised percussion great Israel Suárez “Piraña”, guitar teacher Antonio Sánchez, and singing teacher Sandra Carrasco. Both Piraña and Sánchez are current members of Paco de Lucía’s band.
During this three-day workshop, 20 students from Spain, the United States, Canada, Luxembourg, Turkey, Israel, Iran, France, and Brazil discovered the rhythms, harmonies, and melodies of the most popular palos in Flamenco today. Most of the students didn’t have any previous Flamenco knowledge but were willing to learn its language to incorporate it into their own music.
It enraptured Neda Shahram, an Iranian music business major at Berklee in Boston, right away. “This music purely expresses what’s coming from your soul, with no limitations but a structure, and once you learn that structure, you can develop your character and express yourself,” Shahram said. “It’s almost like a tormenting beauty.”
After a full day of classes, students and faculty jammed in the evenings on some popular Flamenco tunes by Paco de Lucía, a 2010 Berklee honorary doctorate recipient.
Asked about how the program went, “Piraña” was enthusiastic: “The level of the students has been incredible. They grasped the concepts very quickly. I showed them one pattern that took me two days to learn and they got it in 20 minutes!”
About the Valencia experience, he said, “You could breathe music everywhere all the time. I would get to my class and students were already playing—during breaks they were jamming. It has been incredible.”
Sánchez and Piraña agreed it was wonderful to see Flamenco taught in a music college, and especially one as prestigious as Berklee.
“I wasn’t expecting to see Berklee in Spain, but now, in Valencia, teaching not only Flamenco but other music from the Mediterranean countries—styles not as well known as soul, rock, or jazz—that makes me really happy because they are all strong and rich," Sánchez said. "I hope the Berklee adventure in Valencia lasts forever.”