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“My Berklee experience exposed me to a multitude of cultures and musical genres, along with great performance and studio experience. The instruction I received and my dedication to my craft helped me develop into a solid, confident musician.”
At 23, Joshua Wheatley M.M. ’17 is one of the youngest faculty members at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain. He joined the university after graduating and masterminding the Contemporary Instrumental Gospel Ensemble, which was incorporated into the curriculum of the newly created Berklee Study Abroad program. In 2016, he launched his first album, Crisis, which he has performed at several venues in Valencia.
Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in Berklee’s Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) program at the Valencia campus?
My decision was based on my long history with Berklee, which started in 2009 when I attended the One Week Percussion Festival and later on in 2011 when I got accepted to the Five Week Summer Program. By then, I knew Berklee was the only place I wanted to be, so I applied and began [pursuing] my bachelor’s degree in Boston in 2012. In spring 2014, I came to Valencia for one semester as a Berklee Study Abroad student. During this time, I was asked by multiple master’s students to perform on their projects, gigs, and recording sessions. I loved it and met some wonderful people. It also allowed me insight into what the master’s students were doing in the program, which sparked the thought in my mind of what I could pursue for my culminating experience if I were to attend.
Watch Wheatley perform at the Commencement Concert 2017 with John McLaughlin and fellow graduate students:
What opportunities did you have in Valencia that you otherwise might have lacked?
Though the campus is smaller than Boston, the opportunities in Valencia are equally great. And with the benefit of being Europe, it makes it easier to travel to other countries. The close-knit community in Valencia allowed me to get connected with the local musicians. Europe has an openness to newer forms of jazz, which I also appreciate.
How has your Berklee experience influenced you as a professional?
My Berklee experience exposed me to a multitude of cultures and musical genres, along with great performance and studio experience. The instruction I received and my dedication to my craft helped me develop into a solid, confident musician. Three people, in particular, helped me grow: Víctor Mendoza, who saw my ability and collaborative spirit and has presented me with many opportunities in and outside of Berklee; Ralph Peterson, my drum instructor at Boston, who taught me about approaching music from different perspectives in addition to challenging me as an all-round musician; and finally, David Fiuczynski, microtonal guitarist and professor at Boston, who pushed the boundaries of my musicality, took me out of my comfort zone and enabled me to unleash a new kind of creativity on the drums. I was also honored to perform with Fuze at the Microtonal Festival in Berlin, Germany, and the ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn, New York. I was also in the Mahavishnu Ensemble that Fiuczynski taught, which is fascinating because little did I know I would be performing with John McLaughlin at the Berklee Valencia commencement ceremony a year later.
Would you advise prospective students to come to Berklee’s Valencia campus for their master’s programs?
Absolutely. This campus has much to offer for musicians looking to work hard and take their ability and career to the next level.
You currently teach at Berklee Study Abroad and First Year Abroad programs. How did you land this opportunity?
In 2014, while still studying, I began the development of my ensemble curriculum CIGE (Contemporary Instrumental Gospel Ensemble). My plan was to offer to a music school, and the first one I thought of was Berklee Valencia as this was my opportunity to give back to Berklee and help inspire other students. I met with Víctor Mendoza during an advising meeting and presented my idea to him. He supported, encouraged, and recognized the ability that I had to teach. He recommended I present it to María Iturriaga, who became very interested and mentioned that it could be something ideal for the First Year Abroad program, which was about to be launched the following semester.
Watch students perform as part of the Contemporary Instrumental Gospel Ensemble:
How does the Contemporary Instrumental Gospel Ensemble contribute to the program’s curriculum?
After moving from England to America with my family in 2003, I was exposed to my first contemporary gospel album. At 8 years old, I remember the first time I heard that sound; I was captivated by the energy, harmony, and power that it has. In order to teach this music, I needed to come up with a chart system to account for all the sounds that occur in the music because traditionally it is learned purely by ear in church and passed down from generation to generation. I also wanted to make things streamlined by having everyone read the same chart instead of individual parts. In my class, we perform instrumental compositions that I compose specifically for the ensemble to learn, using my chart system, about the harmonic, melodic, rhythmic concepts, and instrumentation used in a contemporary gospel band, in addition to hype arrangements of popular music that I also write and we perform with guest vocalists upon audition. I like to keep things fresh and creative so I write all my own arrangements. My students in the ensemble have expressed to me how much they enjoy the class—so much so, that this semester I had study abroad students join because their friends in Boston told them about it! Currently I am in the process of preparing material which I am copyrighting for my first book.
You were a graduate student less than one year ago. How does it feel to be an instructor?
I taught a jazz program for two summers for elementary and middle school students, in addition to teaching private lessons. I was approached to teach at the Berklee Global Partners (BGP) school San Francisco, Quito, in Ecuador, during my undergraduate studies and thoroughly enjoyed the teaching experience. In high school, I was mentoring students in a jazz combo, as well as being the drummer for the jazz big band and taking part in the classical ensemble. Upon completing my master’s degree, I had studied for a total of five years at Berklee, so the knowledge, musicianship, and ability I had acquired made the student to instructor leap a smooth one.
How would you define your teaching method?
I believe that in music, learning comes through three things: practice, listening, and enjoyment, all of which are equally important. As a teacher, it is essential to be passionate and allow that passion to create an environment of excitement and possibility. I believe in challenging students to the point of deep concentration and through repetition observing the breakthrough into new levels. My leadership serves as an example to students in how to logically and patiently approach learning new concepts. In teaching, it is important to remember we all were once students and all the feelings that come with that. Life is a journey of learning.
You also launched your debut album, Crisis. Can you tell us more?
I launched Crisis in August 2016, and was honored to have some great musicians on the album: Hooni Min on piano and Tabari Lake on bass, who were in the master’s degree program with me. I also had two incredible guest saxophonists from Valencia on the album: Jesús Santandreu and Víctor Jiménez Gómez. The album was beautifully mixed and mastered by Katsuhiko Naito at Avatar Studios, NYC. It is available on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, and many other streaming services. In the future, when my schedule permits, I will tour with the album. I am constantly performing gigs here in Valencia with both local and Berklee musicians, and through Berklee I have had the opportunity to perform in various countries.