As soon as I sat down in the Berklee Performance Center, the Berklee City Music Scholarship Concert started off with some of the most enthusiastic hosts I’ve ever seen. Special Programs Vice President Rob Rose introduced the show by announcing that if we had never seen a Berklee Five-Week concert, this was the perfect one to start with. Berklee City Music Director of Operations and Enrollment Lynnette Gittens took over as hostess for the evening, her first words being “Are you guys ready to party?!” which was followed by a hearty round of cheers and applause from the audience. But, this was nothing compared to the crowd’s roar when more than $2 million in scholarships were awarded to 16 musicians.
The concert featured seven ensembles and 97 City Music students. Each ensemble was different from the last, and each featured at least one Berklee City Music alumnus, including a number who are Berklee faculty, and Tuffus Zimbabwe, piano player for the Saturday Night Live band. Another special guest was Kris Allen, the 2009 American Idol winner and a collaborator and supporter of City Music.
The ensembles played a myriad of musical genres, including jazz, hip-hop, R&B and more, performing both original songs and inspiring rearrangements. One similarity between each ensemble was the amount of fun the performers were having onstage. The audience and the musicians had a great relationship during this concert – there were lots of call and response, clapping, and whooping going on, and the crowd was loving it. Each ensemble was more impressive than the last, wowing the audience with exceptionally powerful vocals, complex jazz harmony and rhythms, and outstanding solos from all kinds of musicians (including singers!).
When the Five-Week City Music Choir came onstage, ensemble director Nichelle Mungo announced, “We are going to have a party up here, so everyone has to stand!” The audience responded immediately, excited to participate. Without delay, the choir started singing, and everyone could tell they were just having a blast. Not only were the singers dancing and clapping onstage, but they also took turns rapping and scatting. Each ensemble had a powerful ending; the choir even left the stage dancing while Gittens and Mungo took over, hugging each other and ending the song with an impressive last verse.
One of my favorite parts of the concert was the Five-Week Hip-Hop/R&B Ensemble. Their first song, “City Music,” was written and arranged by one of the performers, and was created so that students could express their love for City Music programs. One of the lines in the song made my night; “City Music makes dreams possible.”
The entire concert was very emotional for both artists and their families, which was made most apparent during the scholarship awards. Sixteen musicians were awarded four-year, full-tuition scholarships, totaling more than $2 million. Five scholars were from Boston and will begin studying at Berklee in the fall. Scholarships always change these students’ lives; it’s really great to see a remarkable enthusiasm to attend Berklee without having to worry about tuition, student loans, or financial aid. These life-changing awards brought cries of joy among families and close friends. I even felt my eyes glisten a few times! There wasn’t one moment where I didn’t feel pure passion in the room, and watching these incredible high school students enjoy the Berklee Five-Week program warmed my heart.
Berklee City Music is a nonprofit organization that allows 4th through 12th graders in underserved communities to learn more about studying contemporary music, educating more than 10,000 students across the country. Every year, Berklee City Music hosts a scholarship concert and awards more than 100 students with summer program scholarships, hoping to spread music education to any musician who is passionate about music.