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First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

Alejandro Cajiao: Auditions in Colombia

The following is a post from Berklee alumnus Alejandro Cajiao, who along with Mateo De Los Ríos, organized most of the events in Bogotá in coordination with the Berklee International Network and Berklee’s Office of Admissions. Mateo and Alejandro are currently the directors of EMMAT, a music school founded by Berklee alumni.

The Berklee International Network (BIN) and the Office of Admissions team traveled to Colombia in February 2012. Surprises started from the first day. As the team was having the first lunch on Sunday at the famous Colombian restaurant Andres Carne de Res, the waitress who attended our table was a singer who was going to audition for Berklee in a few days. Was it destiny or just a small world?

A crowded jam at the William Shakespeare Theater in Colombia.

That same Sunday the team visited an orphanage called Sam Mauricio. [Assistant vice president for international programs] Greg Badolato played the sax for a large crowd of kids. Badolato and [dean of admissions] Damien Bracken talked with the kids about music and sang a few famous American songs with them.

On Monday, the Berklee team met in a round table with the directors of 12 music schools from various cities of Colombia. It was a great opportunity for the Berklee team to get an insight of music education and music schools in Colombia.

Tuesday, the third day, Berklee gave some clinics, workshops, and info sessions at the William Shakespeare Theater. Around 400 to 500 students showed up. It was a wonderful day with great musicians like Oscar Stagnaro, Greg Badolato, Antonio Arnedo, Enrique Purizaga and others. At the end of the day, Berklee planned on having a jam. . . but what the Berklee team didn’t expect, was that over 200 kids wanted to jump on the stage to jam! The students had to make a long line to get to play.

Bass professor Oscar Stagnaro

A clinic in Colombia

The number of students in Colombia applying for auditions surpassed expectations. From Wednesday to Friday the team had to audition over 100 kids dreaming of studying at Berklee. The team had to expand the schedules for auditions to be able to listen to all the applicants. There were students auditioning not only from all over Colombia, but also a few from Venezuela.

Greg Badalato and Damien Bracken

Wednesday evening, the United States ambassador to Colombia, Michael McKinley, offered a welcome reception for the Berklee team at his residence. Around 200 people attended the reception, including famous musicians such as Carlos Vives and Totó La Momposina. The team was able to meet with Colombian artists, people from the music industry in Colombia, and government officials from the cultural sector.

Mateo De Los Ríos and Alejandro Cajiao helped organize many of the events for Berklee's auditions and clinics in Colombia.

On Thursday Berklee offered a reception in the evening for the Colombian Berklee community. Alumni and parents of students got together with the Berklee team. Some alumni even traveled from other cities like Cartagena to be at this reception. At the end we had a wonderful a cappella jam.

On Friday the team continued with the auditions and at the end of the day the team was dead-tired. On Saturday the Berklee team split to different destinations in the world to continue doing its job: auditioning students around the world.

Alumnus Mateo De Los Ríos and I organized most of the events in Bogotá in coordination with the BIN and Berklee’s Office of Admissions. We are the directors of EMMAT, a music school founded by Berklee alumni. EMMAT, the Anglo Colombian School, Fernando Sor School, and the US Embassy cosponsored some of the events in this venture.

Why Berklee Decided to Go to Colombia

A group of Colombian Berklee students met with the Berklee president Roger H. Brown. The purpose of this meeting was to suggest to Brown that Berklee should go to Colombia and do auditions. Berklee currently has over 40 talented Colombian students.

Roger Brown had recently traveled to Colombia to the Barranquilla Carnival, the second largest carnival in Latin America. He fell in love with Colombia and got to see a sample of the rich Colombian culture and diverse musical traditions.

As this situation was developing at Berklee, Greg Badolato and I were having the same conversation in Chile at the CLAEM meeting: Berklee should visit Colombia.

Two other characters behind the scenes were pushing for this venture too. [Bass professor] Oscar Stagnaro and [director of learning support services] Pablo Vargas. Oscar is a great fan of Colombia and helped us connect with musicians and institutions in Colombia. Pablo is always connected with the Colombian Berklee students and with Colombia and he was a great advisor to all of us.

In June 2011, EMMAT was invited as a guest to participate in the BIN developing sessions. Rodrigo Tenjo and I traveled to Boston and had lunch at Charley’s on Newbury Street with Greg Badolato and [director of international programs] Jason Camelio. We talked about all the planning, details, and goals of Berklee in Colombia.

Berklee had given us the opportunity to help them organize and coordinate a week of events in Colombia, including auditions.  We had eight months to organize this venture.  We didn’t waste a single day since.

If you Google the words “Berklee Colombia” there are many articles: Press, radio, and TV on Berklee’s visit to Colombia:

Press on the web:



Lesley Mahoney
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1 Comment

  1. Oscar Stagnaro

    Thanks Brenda !! this is a great reward for everybody involved . hopefully next year we get some full scholarships for the Students !


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