Berklee’s Inaugural Boston Graduate Students Take Skills, Knowledge to the Next Level

This fall, Berklee launched two new graduate programs: a master of music in contemporary performance (global jazz concentration) and a master of arts in music therapy. These are the first graduate programs to be offered on Berklee’s Boston campus and round out the graduate work being conducted at the college’s Valencia, Spain, campus.

December 18, 2015

This fall, Berklee increased its graduate-level offerings by two, launching both a master of music in contemporary performance (global jazz concentration) program and a master of arts in music therapy program at the Boston campus. Following the tradition of the four graduate programs based at Berklee’s Valencia, Spain campus, these mark the fifth and sixth graduate programs to launch in just the last three years, and the first to be housed in Boston.

Regarding the global jazz graduate program, artistic director Danilo Pérez says the aim is “to mentor the students to find the elements of their talent/gift and help them have a sustainable career in music.” Students will also travel and perform together, creating music, serving local communities, and developing a sense of global citizenship—all the while learning the skills needed to become role models for a new generation of musicians.

In a similar vein, Suzanne Hanser, chair of the Music Therapy Department, says, “The graduates of our program will be specialists in research and conventional/integrative medicine. These advanced skills will enable students to be leaders in forging new directions in healthcare and education.” The program is conducted in a part-time, low-residency format, meaning that students can advance their degree without giving up their jobs or current place of residence. This allows the students to, according to Hanser, “learn while on the job, and implement the lessons into their everyday experiences.”

To get a clearer look at the work happening within the newly launched Boston-based programs, here is a look at six graduate students with divergent life experiences and career hopes who have been brought together under the Berklee banner in order to, in the words of Pérez, “nurture their voice through the lens of community.”

Master of Arts in Music Therapy

“Music changed my life,” Tom Sweitzer says, referencing a musician from his childhood who helped him overcome some of the personal struggles of his youth. An accomplished playwright—work that garnered him an invitation to the White House—he serves as the director at the music therapy practice A Place to Be in Middleburg, Virginia. When the opportunity arose for him to apply to Berklee’s new master of arts in music therapy degree, he jumped at the chance because faculty such as Suzanne Hanser and Kathleen Howland “are renowned in the field,” he says. But also, for professionals like him who already work 14 hours per day, six days per week, the low-residency schedule is perfect. “Berklee is making it possible for people like us to take the next step,” he says. He adds, “You know the coolest part? Whatever I’m learning the night before, I swear the next morning it’s right in front of me to put into practice.”

After a music therapy session at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts led by then-undergraduate Berklee student Kevin Leong ‘15, a patient came up and told him that it had put a smile on her face. The patient confessed she hadn’t smiled in three months and that his music “made me feel something again.” This was a galvanizing moment for Leong that helped him make the decision to take his music therapy studies to the graduate level at Berklee. Leong is particularly drawn to the program’s focus on neuroscience and its heavy emphasis on cutting-edge research. Since music therapy is still sometimes not seen as the “hard science” that it is, Leong says this research emphasis has allowed him to better “advocate for my clients in the field and better communicate with other medical professionals.”

Nicole O’Malley believes that a vital aspect of the music therapy field is that “there isn’t one way to practice.” In fact, the cross-pollination of disciplines plays an enormous role at Hands in Harmony, the organization that O’Malley runs in Wakefield, Rhode Island, and whose mission is to “offer collaborative services in a one-stop shop” environment. For example, if a woman was being treated for breast cancer, her husband could join a support group on-site while their children could participate in an art class all under one roof. The Berklee program’s versatility is thus a major asset to O’Malley in that, as she says, “the program’s really set up for the incorporation of integrative medicine, neurology, and pain management—and that is very rare.”

Master of Music in Contemporary Performance (Global Jazz Concentration)

Photo by Dave Green

For Isaac Wilson, a 22-year-old jazz pianist from Los Angeles, pursuing music is a way to open up opportunities for personal growth. In his senior year at the New England Conservatory, he traveled to Panama with Pérez and the Berklee undergraduate cohort of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute (BGJI). He’d heard of the new global jazz graduate program, and the trip solidified his interest. “After I got back from Panama, I knew this was something to apply to,” he says. Wilson was drawn to the program’s emphasis on openness to music both in a creative sense and as an agent for positive global change. So far, he has been impressed with the access to visiting artists on a weekly basis, and he is excited to “walk out of the program knowing these world-class musicians on a personal level.” Going forward, he hopes to “use these tools and amazing resources to carve my own way using my aesthetics.”

Photo by Dave Green

Tenor saxophonist Neta Raanan '15 first got involved with BGJI during her final year as a Berklee undergraduate student. The program’s “faculty list is almost the same as my iTunes playlist,” she notes, so applying to the program after graduation was a no-brainer. On the business side, she has already learned a lot of new ways to keep her career plan sustainable, particularly regarding revenue stream options, meeting with booking agents, and advice on how to approach venues. Having developed a deep love of jazz early in her childhood, she was first attracted to the program for the music, but through playing, she was introduced to the bigger idea of art as a force for good in the world. As she says, “You have an influence even when you don’t think you do just by doing what you’re passionate about.”

Photo by Dave Green

Marta Roma ‘15 is no stranger to paving her own creative path. Originally from Spain, she’s a cellist who plays jazz with a unique style in which she sings and performs while standing up, rather than using the seated posture traditionally attributed to cellists. She’s excited about the program because, she says, students are “encouraged to believe in ourselves and try to change the world with music.” Roma has experienced this firsthand by doing outreach concerts at a prison and getting the chance to perform at the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival. While she admits that it’s hard at first to find your voice when trying new things, she also says that “while there’s no book or music to follow, I know I’m learning, because I feel it. I feel so different when I go back to more familiar territory.”


Watch Marta Roma perform "Ain't Misbehavin'" at Berklee: