For Berklee’s Class of 2014, on to the Next Chapter

The undergraduate class of 2014 came to Berklee from 66 countries across six continents and 43 U.S. states and demonstrated that differences of language, place, and culture are no match for the unifying force of music.

May 5, 2014

The undergraduate class of 2014 came to Berklee from 66 countries across six continents and 43 U.S. states. Collaborating together, they demonstrated that differences of language, place, and culture are no match for the unifying force of music, which they performed, wrote, produced, engineered, designed, taught, marketed, managed, engineered, sold, shared, and changed.

With such a wide variety of passions falling underneath the broad umbrella of contemporary music, encapsulating Berklee’s class of 2014 with a broad brush stroke would do disservice to the unique individuals who are now preparing for their next chapter in music. Instead, we offer just a glimpse of the many talented and dedicated students who have helped to make the Berklee community the creative and caring place that it is, and who will shape the future of music in a myriad of ways yet to be seen. Representing each of the 12 undergraduate majors offered at Berklee, here are 14 snapshots of the class of 2014, in advance of this weekend's commencement ceremonies.

Watch highlights from Berklee's 2014 commencement concert and ceremony here:

Alissia Benveniste is a professional music major and a bass player who grew up in Geneva, Switzerland and Milan, Italy and came to Berklee after receiving a scholarship from the Berklee at Umbria Jazz Clinics. REVIVE Magazine writes, “There are few names that come to mind when you think of female bassists who can bring the funk hard while singing and leading a band…we can surely add one more name to that list: Alissia Benveniste.” A performance of an original song by Benveniste and her band, “Let It Out,” captured in the Berk Recital Hall, went viral on YouTube, drawing more than 500,000 views. Watch it here:

Kyle Billings is a music business/management major from Westminster, Massachusetts who has served as editor-in-chief of Berklee’s Music Business Journal, writing insightful articles on topics such as recording rights and the role of big data in the music industry. He recently cofounded WaxLimited, a direct-to-fan vinyl production and pre-sale company that was featured at Boston’s Music Tech Fest at the Microsoft Research NERD Labs. Billings also provided key assistance to Berklee’s new Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE), and he has worked as a consultant for companies such as Bundio and Rednote. Read his Music Business Journal articles here.

Jonah Francese is a jazz composition major and trumpeter from Sharon, Massachusetts who founded Thinkin’ Big, an 18-piece big band featuring many Berklee students, which recently released its second album. Francese has also taken advantage of Berklee’s athletics partnership with Emerson College, where he played on the NCAA Division III baseball and soccer teams. In an Emerson interview, Francese cites the supportive influences of his family (his brother, Jesse Francese, also attends Berklee) and the faculty, noting that Brass Department professor Phil Wilson has “been such a huge and amazing influence on me and I’m so fortunate to have his guidance.” Listen to music from Francese and Thinkin’ Big here.

Grace Gibson
is a professional music major from New York City who recently played the roles of Maria and Mary in the major motion picture Black Nativity, based on the play by Langston Hughes. A vocalist and guitarist, Gibson found that when Hollywood came calling, her Berklee education was crucial: “I was given songs I had to learn, like I was given songs to learn in Jetro Da Silva’s Divas Ensemble; I had to play guitar and record with (the film’s executive music director) Raphael Saadiq, so I had to use things George Russell Jr. taught me in harmony class; and I had to sing with Jennifer Hudson and used lessons Donna McElroy taught me in our voice lessons. It made me a better actress.”

Jason Lim
is an electronic production and design major hailing from Falkirk, Scotland who plays bass, violin, guitar, and drums. Lim is also a synthesist, a computer programmer, an electronics technician, and an inventor. Lim traveled internationally with the Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute (BIAI) and worked closely with BIAI artistic director Neil Leonard and another graduating student, Dalton Harts, to create an impressive multi-floor light show set to music for the dedication of Berklee’s new tower at 160 Massachusetts Avenue. Along with Berklee alumnus Andrew Ikenberry ’13, Lim has founded Qu-Bit Electronix, a Eurorack modular synthesizer company. Watch a demonstration of Qu-Bit’s Nebulae modular synthesizer here:

Richard Ludlow
is a dual film scoring major and electronic production and design major from Fountain Valley, California who, along with several Berklee alumni, founded Hexany Audio, an audio company specializing in sound design and music for video games and interactive media that currently serves clients in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Boston, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia. At Berklee, Ludlow says, “We’ve had this time to incubate that I think a lot of startups don’t have. I think that has set us off on a really solid foundation and now we’re ready to expand.” Listen to samples of Hexany Audio’s work here.

Ella Joy Meir is a dual contemporary writing and production major and electronic production and design major from Kiryat Tiv'on, Israel. A pianist and vocalist, Meir's unique songwriting, composing, and arranging is on display in the band Isis Lune, which recently performed at the dedication of Berklee’s new campus building at 160 Massachusetts Avenue. Meir has worked closely with the Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute (BIAI), and Berklee’s assistant chair of contemporary writing and production, Andrea Pejrolo, arranged and produced Meir’s song, “Sandstorm,” using only an iPad and presented it at the 2013 Macworld Conference. Listen to the song here.

Giorgi Mikadze is a dual composition major and performance major from Tbilisi, Georgia who performed his first concerto with a symphony orchestra at the age of 12. A talented composer and pianist, he came to Berklee with a full scholarship and was selected to participate in the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. At Berklee, he served as student director for the college’s Quincy Jones tribute concert and his group was featured at the 2013 Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival. Watch Mikadze perform his version of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” here:

Leandro Pellegrino
is a performance major and jazz guitarist from Sao Paulo, Brazil who won the prestigious 2013 Montreux Jazz Festival Electric Guitar Competition. Pellegrino was selected to participate in the Berklee Global Jazz Institute (BGJI) and is preparing to release his debut album. “No matter how many people say that it’s difficult or you might not reach your goals, just work hard, believe in yourself, and follow your dreams,” Pellegrino says. “That’s what I did, and I just realized that it is paying off.” He adds, “I’m just glad I’m surrounded by so many amazing people—not just amazing teachers, but amazing human beings who are humble, who open their hearts and just give me everything they have.” Listen to music from Pellegrino here.

Sheen Tse Kuek Ser is a music therapy major and a pianist from Klang, Malaysia currently interning at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she works with children and adults receiving cancer treatments. Prior to attending Berklee, she graduated from the International College of Music (ICOM), a Berklee International Network (BIN) partner, and worked in public relations for several agencies; she hopes to put those PR skills to use in advocating for more widespread adoption of music therapy services in health care settings. “Music can’t cure cancer, but it can give people a chance to feel like a person again,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s just about giving a patient a choice. They can’t say ‘no’ to needles, but they can say, ‘let’s change that groove.’”

Natalia Sulca is a performance major from Miami, Florida who has been playing piano since age 4 and singing since age 11. Sulca worked as a resident assistant at Berklee. A highlight of her time at the college included a trip to the Latin Grammys to perform with Latin music superstar Alejandro Sanz. “The idea that Marc Anthony was right in front of me, watching me sing?” she says. “These people have been my idols since I was little. I’ve been listening to these people forever and it was just so incredible that they were enjoying my performance when I have enjoyed so many of theirs.” Watch Sulca and other Berklee students perform with Sanz at the Latin Grammys here:

Arielle Vakni
is a songwriting major from Santa Cruz, California who recently released her debut album, Facets and Resonance. In 2013, Vakni studied under acclaimed singer-songwriter and Berklee alumna Patty Larkin ‘74, who produced one of Vakni’s songs, “Save Your Best.” Vakni tells Interview Magazine, “I feel like I came into Berklee really not knowing very much at all about music as a profession. I couldn’t read music, so honestly I feel like I owe so much to them. Even outside of just learning about the craft, I feel like they really helped me get it together on the business side of things, too.” Watch Vakni perform her original song, “Backwards,” live at Cafe 939 here:

Ryan Walsh is a music production and engineering (MP&E) major from Santa Ana, California and a budding recording engineer, mixer, and producer who has worked as studio manager for the Berklee Internet Radio Network (BIRN). Walsh has trained fellow student DJs and worked on commercial releases by Berklee’s new record label, birnCORE. His 21st Century Schizoid Show is the BIRN’s longest-running radio show. “MP&E is fantastic and the BIRN has been the perfect supplement,” he says. “I truly believe this is the best music college in the world.” Get a taste of Walsh’s recording, mixing, and editing range on this tune by Club D’Elf, or watch this video featuring another talented graduating student, Molly Tuttle, with audio recorded live by Walsh:

Clifton Williams
is a dual music education major and contemporary writing and production major who came to Berklee on a presidential scholarship after attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts High School in Washington, D.C., where he was his class valedictorian. An accomplished pianist, he recently toured nationally and internationally with the Harlem Gospel Choir. Williams won in the Gospel category of the 2013 John Lennon Songwriting Contest and he just recently won the Apollo Theater Theme Song ContestHear his original song for the Apollo here, or watch him perform for a Kennedy Center showcase in this video:

This article features additional reporting by Kim Ashton, Nick Balkin, Rob Hochschild, Lesley Mahoney, and Adam Renn Olenn.