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More than 3,500 miles from Berklee’s Boston campus there is a palm tree-laden, Mediterranean version of the contemporary music college. At Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain, more than 50 students are studying performance, music business, music technology, ear training, and a host of other subjects through the Study Abroad program.
Some have taken such a liking to studying in Spain that they’ve continued beyond the typical one-semester stay here. There are the academic advantages, particularly the focus on music technology programs and international music business; and the social ones, such as the strong sense of community and cultural influences.
Students can elect to study in Valencia at different points along their path at Berklee, choosing from classes that will allow them to progress in their course of studies and meet their graduation requirements.
Students looking to study music technology have a menu of classes to choose from, and can go deeper and acquire a minor in the subject over the course of one semester. The state-of-the-art studios, used as a model for the Boston campus’s new facilities, sweeten the appeal.
“The recording studios here are amazing,” says Avila Santo, a hand percussionist and professional music major from Los Angeles. “If you have the desire, you can go into these top-notch studios.” He’s learning about live recording and projection of sound, along with electronic composition and production.
Brielle Blount, a drummer who's also from Los Angeles, is thrilled with the access she’s getting to the studios, acquiring techniques that she knows will help her have more control over herself as an artist. “I’m taking some music technology courses and learning how to function in the studio,” she says. “I’m taking Recording and Mix Techniques for Musicians with Pablo Schuller. The class is really great because I am not a music technology major or minor but I still have the opportunity to learn basic, but essential, tools for producing my own music. That’s one of the great things about Berklee in Valencia; we have the ability to explore other aspects of music outside of our majors.”
Kelvin Lau, a classically trained vocalist from Hong Kong, is taking three music technology classes, following on the heels of an MTech class in Boston. “That gave me a strong foundation. Now these classes are building on that.”
In the heart of Mediterranean, Valencia is not only a destination itself—“The location is pristine, it’s amazing,” Santo says—but also an access point to other countries.
Blount, who came to Berklee’s Boston campus by way of the City Music Network and the Five-Week Summer Performance Program, has had the opportunity to travel to France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Hungary, and Italy while based in Valencia.
For Blount, who’s dreamed of living in Europe and was used to the laid-back and friendly disposition of L.A., Valencia has been just what she was looking for. “It was like, ‘Welcome home, Brielle.’”
But more than just providing easy geographical access to other countries, by virtue of location and curriculum, the study abroad program has given Blount, a music business/management major, a deeper understanding of the global music industry. “Here, we focus on music industry markets in Spain, France, the U.K., and the U.S., for example. We look at the markets individually and in relationship to each other. I had the opportunity to attend Midem in Cannes, France. So many people from so many different markets were represented.”
Inside and outside the classroom, study abroad students are building lasting relationships.
“Everyone here is very professional and very educated,” says Blount. “The faculty here are brilliant. It’s a small program. You get to know people on a very individual level. You can build business relationships and personal ones.”
Lau anticipates these will be lifelong bonds. “Here, it’s much smaller than Boston. You bond and get to know people in-depth. I think these friendships will last a really long time, even after I graduate and go back to Hong Kong. I think they will really last forever. These relationships are gifts.”
For Lau, going to Valencia was a huge cultural leap. English was not his first language but now he’s using it like it is. This departure from his comfort zone is helping to him to be more creative. “As a musician, you really have to interpret music and how you interpret it is based on personal experience and how much you know about the world,” he says. “My brain is picking up a lot of things, a lot of cultural differences. People are more relaxed here, enjoying life. When you’re more relaxed you tend to process emotions and feelings even more, and that leads to really good music I’m writing more songs here.”
Meghna Rajaram was born in Calcutta, India, and raised in Arizona, where Indian music was a huge part of her upbringing. In Boston, her Berklee teachers helped her to learn more about her voice and create a fusion of Western, semi-classical Indian, and Bollywood styles. In Valencia, she was able to take this evolution to a new level.
“My private instructor Celia Mur is great. She’s helping me apply flamenco nuances to Indian classical music,” says Rajaram, a music business/management major and voice principal. “The opportunities here are endless and you can take advantage of how small the campus is and the kind of individualized attention you can get.”
Santo is Brazilian and grew up studying Afro-Cuban and Latin percussion. In Valencia, which has long been a crossroads where Western and Middle Eastern cultures mingle, Santo has even more access to different musical influences. “This program has allowed me to approach music from a few different standpoints, to broaden my arsenal of musical information. For Surveys of Mediterranean Musical Styles with Cristobol de la Rosaa, we’re playing Balkan music and Jewish music. We learned a lot about Arabic music and flamenco.”
Meanwhile, Rajaram had the opportunity to perform at a jazz club in Madrid, Bogui Jazz. It was the kind of performance experience she had not had up to this point, and just one example of how she’s grown since coming to Valencia. “I’ve never been so amazed at my own adaptability into a foreign country. I picked up Spanish, which I had taken before. I learned a lot about what kind of person I am when put in a new environment. Wherever I go will be a new, fresh start, but I can handle it. I didn’t know I had that kind of independence in me.”
Whether it’s the global cultural, music, and business connections; the tight-knit Valencia campus community; or the top-notch faculty, music technology facilities, and academic offerings, students are finding a rich and rewarding experience in Spain that is developing them as musicians in ways they never imagined.
And the opportunities will only continue to expand. Now back in Valencia for the third semester, Blount has watched the program blossom. “I’ve grown with this program, as it continues to grow. Valencia has truly become a place I call home as I have grown in the best of ways here as a creative individual, as a young woman, as a business thinker, and as a musician.”
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