Berklee College of Music in Boston treats with seriousness and depth music I am passionate about. I spent my undergraduate career immersed in the poetry of Nicolas Guillen and emerged with an original song cycle, an honors paper featuring Cuban composers, and two class presentations based on his work. When I graduated, I abandoned my passion for Cuban culture because I realized that further research would require traveling to Cuba, which was illegal for me until several weeks ago. The recent news did not rekindle my passion, but Berklee did.
I spent five days as a student of the Paquito D’Rivera Berklee Latin Program. To consume knowledge and to be challenged were refreshing, but it was my first experience of being able to clearly communicate to my teachers my limitations, aspirations, and appreciation. Pianist Alex Brown guided, corrected, and encouraged me as I practiced new skills of chord voicings and rhythmic patterns to play within a small ensemble of students from Panama, Mexico, and the United States. I relished being bilingual during rehearsals. Ethnomusicologist Bertram Lehmann traced rhythms across three centuries, three continents, and a myriad of instruments in his two-hour lecture on Cuban music. I asked him what gaps were left in the research, and his answer inspired me to spend the next thirty years of my scholarly life invested in one of the topics he mentioned. Everything I had learned about Cuban music before this summer program was from a book or a recording, not from people who valued and mastered what I wanted to know.