Berklee to Hold Auditions in Kenya

Africa Scholars Program brings outreach and opportunity to the world beyond Boston

Kenyan music producer Jack Odongo (piano) accompanies his triplet sons at Berklee's 2009 auditions in Nairobi.
Berklee's 2009 Kenya Team: Michael Shaver, Assistant Director of International Admissions; Ron Savage, Chair of the Ensemble Department; Sam Skau, Assistant Director of Educational Operations for International Programs; George Russell, Jr., Associate Prof
Musicians at Berklee's 2008 auditions in Ghana

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Eight thousands miles away from its Boston home base, Berklee College is looking to expand its influence on the contemporary music scene. Between June 28 and July 5, representatives of the school will be in Nairobi, Kenya auditioning and conducting workshops with regional musicians for its Africa Scholars Program, one component of Berklee’s ongoing outreach in the East African nation.

For the program, musicians across the continent are invited to demonstrate skill in their principal instrument – which can be vocals – to a team of Berklee faculty. The faculty then selects the best candidates for the program and forwards their evaluations to the scholarship office, where the final selections are made. Although the majority of applicants will receive partial tuition awards, one applicant will be named the 2010 Africa Scholar and have full tuition and housing covered for all four years at Berklee.

ASP qualifies as one of the Berklee’s auditioning and interviewing programs, otherwise known as A&I, which targets a wide range of both American and international locations such as India, Finland and Ecuador. However, while typical A&I is open only to students who have already applied to Berklee, ASP aims to attract musicians who may not have seriously considered the school because of financial constraints, according to Sam Skau, assistant director of Educational Outreach for International Programs. In evaluating ASP applicants, Skau said, Berklee faculty considers both “musical merit and financial need.”

Skau emphasized that ASP’s reach goes beyond the awarding of financial scholarships, extending further to the development of locally run music education in Kenya. During the Nairobi trip, Berklee is hosting a forum with 30 to 35 local music educators to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing arts programs, as well as how Berklee addresses music education in general. The college has also been selecting faculty members to send to Nairobi’s Brookhouse School, which in the past year launched its B-Tech music curriculum, a program parallel to Berklee’s own contemporary writing and production major.

According to Skau, ASP contains so many different aspects so it can meet the needs of all types of musicians – those who are interested in Berklee but lack the financial means to attend, those who are interested and do have enough money, and those who are likely to stay in Kenya but would still like to expand their music education. Regarding the latter group of students, Skau explained that nurturing programs in Kenya itself addresses Berklee’s broader goal of promoting the international music scene. “We ultimately want to enable locals to encourage what is coming out of local culture,” he said. He added that this is important to accomplish in Africa because the continent has fostered an especially vibrant and influential music community. “This is going on because of the cultural depth and musical depth that is there, which has so much to do with contemporary music,” he said.

This will be the second consecutive year that Berklee has brought the program to Nairobi. Auditions were held in South Africa and Ghana in the summer of 2008.

During the auditions themselves, Skau said, the examiners want applicants to showcase their real musical identity without worrying about any particular standards. “We advise candidates to come in and put their best foot forward in whatever style they want,” he said. In the past, the examiners have evaluated a lot of pianists, guitarists and vocalists, although Skau said that they always see some musicians playing native regional instruments. With flexibility based on the musicians’ expertise, they are evaluated across factors like improvisational and technical skills, years of formal training and study, and a sense of harmony.

Applicants should be notified of the program results about a month after the auditions, Skau said.

For more information about the program, you can go to the Africa Scholars home page.