Berklee Awards Three Full-Tuition Scholarships to Indian Musicians at Mumbai Ceremony and Concert
Standing before a crowd of several hundred people in Mumbai, India, Berklee President Roger H. Brown made a prediction: India will be a global force—perhaps the global force—in 21st century music. And Berklee, he said, intends to be a partner in making that happen.
A major step in cultivating that collaboration between Berklee and Indian musicians was the concert and scholarship presentation at which Brown was speaking. He and others from the college were in Mumbai in May 2016 to award the Berklee A. R. Rahman Scholarship, which covers tuition for four years at Berklee, to three talented Indian musicians: guitarist Aman Sagar, pianist Ronojit Chaliha, and percussionist Sarthak Mudgal.
The scholarships are funded by money raised at events, including a sold-out concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall, surrounding A. R. Rahman’s October 2014 visit to Berklee, at which the superstar was awarded an honorary doctorate. Their total value is over $500,000, which is in addition to the $300,000 a year that Berklee currently gives in scholarships to Indian students.
“This is really unimaginable, Berklee in Chennai, in Mumbai, almost creating a bridge for our musicians, for our talent to go there and become great musicians. This is really a dream come true,” film score composer Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) told the crowd assembled at St. Andrew’s College auditorium to see both the award presentations and a concert featuring Berklee faculty and recent alumni. Rahman added that he had aspired to go to Berklee but chose to do a movie called Roja. The film's soundtrack is widely credited as changing the face of Indian popular music.
Initially, Berklee had planned to award one full scholarship, but the talent pool was so great that Berklee and the Berklee India Exchange (BIX) presented three scholarships, said Clint Valladares, who codirects BIX with faculty member Annette Philip.
A Gateway to India
BIX was created in 2013 as a platform for cultural conversation about Indian music through artist residencies, musical collaborations, and performances. Three Indian artists—Clinton Cerejo, Rahman, and Vijay Prakash—have come to Berklee for residencies and other events through BIX. All three were present at the concert and award ceremony in Mumbai, and Cerejo and Prakash joined Berklee alumni Elin Sandberg, Yogev Gabay, Aleif Hamdan, and Desmond “DJ” Scaife Jr. on stage with Philip and faculty member Dennis Montgomery III for the Cerejo/Prakash song “Baina.”
“The concert was very successful on many levels because it was presenting gospel, blues, jazz, funk, Israeli music, Valladares said. "We had some Indian vocalists, who are pretty high-profile in their own right, as well as a tabla player, a flute player, and all the amalgamation and mix of all these different elements that we see at Berklee we were able to present in a box to India,” he added.
It’s this blend that Cerejo said is one of the things he appreciates about Berklee. “I really think Berklee has always been at the forefront when it comes to merging cultures, and that’s something I love to do as well,” he said. “For me to be part of the India exchange program has always been amazing.”
Rahman, Cerejo, and Prakash each emphasized the importance of the scholarship for bringing Indian students to Berklee. “I wish I had this [opportunity] when I was a kid because I can’t tell you how much I wanted to go to Berklee. I didn’t even bother asking my parents because it just seemed out of reach,” Cerejo said.
Some of the other events in Mumbai that helped bring a Berklee experience within reach of Indian musicians included clinics for local teachers and music students, taught by faculty member Livingston Taylor, and a Tandon Global Clinic for students and their parents taught by Philip, Montgomery, Scaife, Sandberg, Hamdan, and Gabay.
“This is just the beginning,” said Valladares, who will be back in India in June for Tandon clinics in Bengaluru and Chennai. “I look at it as a volcano erupting. We’re just seeing the smoke right now; the smoke is leading us to the mountain, and we know where all the activity is.”