Berklee student Esther Rojas, a Barranquilla native, was selected by the Office of International Programs to put together a group of students to visit Medellín, Pereira and Manizales, Colombia, as part of a two-week teaching and performing series sponsored by the Colombo-Americano bi-national centers. In her own words below, Esther shares her perspective on the musical and cultural significance of this experience.

The Office of International Programs wishes to thank Esther, Caili, Magnus and Patrick for their incredible professionalism and enthusiasm throughout the event planning and the trip itself. We also are grateful to director of learning support services Pablo Vargas and assistant director of admissions Billy Herron for traveling with the group and supporting Berklee’s outreach efforts in Colombia. A huge thanks also to the dedicated staff at the Colombo-Americano in Medellín and Pereira for making this event a reality.

This is the first entry in a series of the Berklee Rhythm Collective’s student perspectives on this event. Over the next few weeks we’ll hear from the rest of the band, and get a complete picture of this unique and powerful cultural exchange experience.

Student Perspective: Esther Rojas Rodriguez

I had the honor of being selected to coordinate the group that would travel to Colombia this past June, for a two-week program teaching workshops for young musicians and performing in concerts in Medellín, Pereira, and Manizales. I asked Patrick Simard (drums) and Magnus Bakken (sax) if they would be interested in collaborating in this project. Fortunately, they gladly agreed. Later on, at the suggestion of Jason Camelio, Caili O´Doherty – a recent Berklee graduate and a wonderful pianist – joined our group, forming the Berklee Rhythm Collective.

This trip proved to be one of the most valuable and gratifying experiences I have ever had, as for the first time I was given the opportunity to share with my countrymen something that Berklee has taught me.

Years ago, when I used to attend jazz workshops in Bogotá (the Colombian capital), I was always left with the impression that although I could grasp the theory, I remained unable to apply it immediately to the instrument. With that memory still fresh in my mind, I encouraged my fellow group members to concentrate on affording our audience plenty of chances to “practice” what they learned during the workshops. Fortunately, the musical foundation that Berklee provides its students is solid and clear. This allowed us to have an organic and uncomplicated teaching process. Still, we had our challenges. One of the most difficult tasks was to teach students of so many contrasting levels. But regardless of their level of musicianship, we realized that their “swing feel” was unclear, as Colombian music is “felt” differently. We thus started having them perform rhythmic exercises using their entire bodies so as to instill in them a more proper way to sense the swing feel in the most natural way possible. The result of this approach was that our students were able to acquire a language that resembles more closely that of jazz in terms rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic phrases.

As the workshops progressed, I quickly realized that I too was learning from both my colleagues and our students. The exchange of experiences, not only about music but also about life, influenced my way of playing. It became evident to me that communication fulfills a vital role in music and that honesty greatly contributes to this rapport. It was also clear to me that the connection among band mates has the potential to deeply move the audience and produce enthusiastic, emotive and genuine reactions. And this is precisely what the members of Berklee Rhythm Collective accomplished.

The musicians with whom we had the opportunity to collaborate in Colombia are very talented but also very thirsty for learning. I wish they could have access to all the training and information that Berklee offers, as with these tools they would be able to widen the horizons of Colombian music, which by nature, is very rich in its rhythmic, melodic, and instrumental elements.

Lastly, it was also very gratifying to me to discover that my bandmates’ attitude was always very receptive. They were continually willing to immerse themselves in the Colombian culture and experiment with its varied flavors, rhythms, and dances. They constantly admired its landscapes and showed the greatest openness to interact with its welcoming people.

Music fosters solidarity and mutual understanding among the world’s peoples. We closely experienced this truth in our BRC trip to Colombia.