Student Led Berklee Rhythm Collective Teach And Perform In Colombia As Cultural Ambassadors

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Berklee College of Music student bassist Esther Rojas, a native of Barranquilla, Colombia, leads the Berklee Rhythm Collective on a two-week trip to her home country to teach and perform. The program, sponsored by the Colombo-Americano Bi-National Center (BNC) of the U.S. Embassy’s Cultural Affairs Office, is part of an initiative to promote Colombian and U.S. relations and understanding through music education. Berklee Rhythm Collective will be in Colombia through June 24.

The trip originated with the BNC contacting Berklee’s International Programs department about sending a group to Colombia. “We identified Esther as an ideal candidate to put together a group to fulfill both the teaching and performing components, while also serving as cultural ambassadors of the college,” said Amanda Gouldthorpe, assistant director of International Programs at Berklee. “This is a strong student opportunity directly in line with our work in Colombia, which includes holding audition and interview events there annually for admission to the college.”

The Berklee group will teach a wide variety of musicians in Medellín and Pereira. In Medellín, the program is an open jazz camp for students 16 and up who have two years of musical training. In Pereira, they will be working with three different groups: underserved youth ages 13 to 17 currently enrolled in a community music program; university students who play in a jazz band but are not formally studying music; and professional musicians who play in a local municipal band.

Berklee Rhythm Collective – including student Magnus Bakken (saxophone), and alumni Caili O'Doherty (piano) and Patrick Simard (drums) – will give several concerts during the trip, performing at the University Jazz Festival in Medellín (June 14), Teatro Lucy Tejada in Pereira (June 20), Auditorio University Nacional Sede Palogrande in Manizales (June 22), and Parque Olaya Herrera in Pereira (June 23).

Rojas, a contemporary writing and production major, has performed with Luis Enrique, Maria Mulata, Amaxona, and Cesar Lopez Group, and taught at Escuela de Formacion Musical before coming to Berklee. This trip holds particular significance for her. “I’m very excited about going back to my country to play and teach some of the new things I’m learning at Berklee,” said Rojas. “I also have great expectations about sharing the process I went through when I decided to come to another country with a very different culture and language, and how this positively impacted my life.”

Berklee College of Music, for over 65 years, has evolved to support its belief that the best way to prepare students for careers in music is through contemporary music education. The college was the first in the U.S. to teach jazz, the popular music of the time. It incorporated rock n’ roll in the 1960s, created the world's first degree programs in film scoring, music synthesis, and songwriting, and, in recent years, added world music, hip- hop, electronica, and video game music to its curriculum. With a diverse student body representing over 80 countries and a music industry “who’s who” of alumni that have received 231 Grammy Awards, Berklee is the world’s premier learning lab for the music of today – and tomorrow.

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