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First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

New Year, New Semester, and Another Midterm Check-In

This post has been ruminating since winter break, when I first began reflecting on what I had learned from my first semester at Berklee and what I wanted to change going into my second semester. Being that it’s already spring break, I can share not only my original goals or “resolutions,” but also my progress thus far.

1. Explore more of Boston!

This goal could really fall under a more encompassing goal of doing what I should have done my first semester – take it all in! I wish I had attended more concerts, explored more of the surrounding areas of Boston, and just taken advantage of the excitement of my first semester! That’s not to say that didn’t go to any concerts, or explore any of Boston, or that I my schedule was wide open for frolicking around Boston anyways (I do have schoolwork and piano practicing to do), but I still wonder if I couldn’t have allowed more time for simply enjoying all the “firsts” my first semester had to offer.

One of my excursions from last semester in Chinatown

How have I done so far?

… Well, I finally went to Cambridge last week, and I’m planning on going on a few photoshoots with some other students in places I’ve never seen or need to explore more of once the weather warms up again. As for concerts? I’ve already seen 8 this semester, and I’m going to my first House of Blues show next week. And given that this semester has been busier than the last, I think my progress is pretty impressive.

2. Make time for creative projects

This goal may come as something of “duh” for most people reading this, but it’s harder to remember than I had anticipated once I came to school:

Every semester that I only apply my creative energy to my courses and class assignments is another semester of lost potential.

After all, I’m not coming to Berklee for the grades or the degree – I’m here at Berklee to learn tools and skills to complete my own projects. Last semester, I had to learn this the hard way when I pulled an all-nighter and still didn’t quite finish my ambitious Arranging 1 final project on time. I told my Harmony instructor that I would rather take a (huge) hit on my grade for turning in a project late, having taken the effort to compose and record an original song, than turn in a project on time that I couldn’t add to my portfolio of original music. That’s when he gave me the advice I’m sharing now – it’s necessary to make time for projects outside of school. While many of the assignments and courses at Berklee should relate to the areas where students want to grow, it doesn’t mean that every assignment (or any assignment) is the right opportunity for accomplishing that song or that piece I’ve been wanting to write. Ideally, the assignments should help students build a strong portfolio of work, but trying to align our creative drive and ideas with our assignment is like putting a square peg in a round hole. And that’s okay! Berklee isn’t always about giving us assignments that are identical to our desired projects – they’re meant to be as close as possible to our creative goals so that we can learn tools and skills to accomplish those projects outside of the classroom.

How have I done so far?

Terrible. Truthfully, without my Arranging 1 final project, I wouldn’t have taken the time to record with several musicians or actually had the impetus to finish my song. And, unfortunately, that’s why I think I haven’t written anything this semester. I’ve become a slave to my course load and haven’t taken the time to venture beyond the class curriculum. Being around so many talented musicians, who are forming bands and recording songs, has been an incredible inspiration for me. But I’m really struggling to create time in my schedule for school work, piano practicing, my part time job, cultivating relationships with my friends doing stress-relieving un-musically-related things like seeing a movie or just hanging out, and writing and recording music. I’m sure that I’ll strike a better balance next semester after I’ve had the whole summer to let my pent-up inspiration germinate. But in the meantime? I just don’t see this semester being a huge success for my personal music goals.

One of the handful of images I took purely for myself last semester

Although, I must add that this goal is about creative projects as a whole and not just music. Especially when music is stressing me out, I take refuge in photography and having another creative output that offers almost instant gratification (point – click – ooh! Picture!). Last semester, I had only two photoshoots purely for my own gratification. And If I learned anything last semester, then it’s this –

My creativity is supported and nourished by Berklee and the city of Boston, not initiated by it.

Making the time to pursue my creative drive is my job, not Berklee’s. And that’s why I’m really excited that I’ll at least be making time for photography once I get back from break to explore new locations with some of my friends who also shoot. So, while it’s not cutting an EP, it’s a start in the right direction.

3. Stop Apologizing

This goal is one that many mentors in my life wanted me to adopt even before coming to Berklee – stop apologizing. And no, I’m not talking about neglecting to seek forgiveness when I’ve clearly done someone wrong. This is a goal that’s a little harder to describe since the circumstances are often different. But for now, I’d like to discuss how I encounter it the most at Berklee – when I’m screwing up at the piano and I say “I’m sorry.” Fact: I suck at jazz piano. And that’s okay. My rocky transition from classical to jazz is still in progress, and I need to have more patience with myself as I work through the mental gymnastics required of jazz. And I keep apologizing in class because sometimes I could have been more prepared, and I owe my instructor an apology on those occasions. But other times? I just say it because I’m insecure of my playing. And apologizing out of insecurity is not only unnecessary, but it makes others uncomfortable to see someone else with such low self-esteem. No classmate or instructor wants to feel obligated to carry a student emotionally, and by apologizing, that’s what’s the help I’m implying I need, which is why I need to selectively obliterate it from my vocabulary.

How am I doing so far?

Well, I’ve certainly come a long way from my boss over the summer pinching me everytime I said “sorry,” but I still have a long ways to go. If all I had to do was stop saying “sorry,” this wouldn’t be such a huge struggle. The true goal lies in replacing the apologies with a willing, determined spirit that makes my instructors want to work with me on improving at jazz piano or any other areas of weakness I have. Once I can do that, I’m sure the apologies will take care of themselves.

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Hopefully this opus (over 1000 words? GAH!!!) has helped highlight, not so much my regrets, but the vast opportunities for personal and creative growth that Berklee offers. I tell people all the time how much I LOVE OH MY GOD ADORE Berklee (!!!), and they look at me like I must be drinking the cool-aid. Well, if that’s the case, then I must be guzzling it, because I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than here.

– Elisa

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1 Comment

  1. Peter

    Love this article (and the pics)!

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