For Young Musicians, Berklee’s Aspire Summer Program Paves a Path to Unforgettable Experiences

Hear from three recent Aspire: Five-Week Music Intensive attendees about their summer highlights and how to get the most out of the program.

May 15, 2024

Each summer, high school students from all around the world come to Berklee's Boston campus for the Aspire: Five-Week Music Intensive. The program, a comprehensive crash course in music-making and the music industry, has played a pivotal role in the lives of countless aspiring young artists. We spoke to three former Aspire attendees about the transformative adventure and sunny memories in Boston that left them yearning to return to Berklee.

Musical Revelations

Star Mahoney, a singer and aspiring songwriting major shared about learning the vocabulary of improvisation from Professor Daryl Lowery: “I always thought improv was about this vague feeling of the music, but there’s so much more to it than I could’ve imagined."

Yael Danon, a singer-songwriter, recalled Professor Nando Michelin’s musicianship class, which kept her coming back three summers in a row. The class empowered her to audition for the Balkan Choir, “Although at first, learning the music in three weeks seemed almost impossible, this experience ended up teaching me so much and connected me to my roots.”

Singer-songwriter Talima Ziguinchor was particularly inspired by the program’s Performance Perspectives sessions, where students were exposed to career insights by industry legends such as SRT, which featured world-renowned drummer John Robinson, guitarist Andrew Synowiec, and jazz organist Mitch Towne. “Being able to watch them and ask them questions was amazing. I even took a picture with John Robinson," she says.

Harmonizing Connections

All three students shared that one of the most significant parts of their Aspire experience was the opportunity to build relationships with other young musicians.

“I met many of my best friends at the Berklee Five-Week summer program,” Danon says. “The friendships you make at Berklee are not just normal friendships; you get to connect with people who truly understand your language: music. Some of my greatest mentors today are also people I met at Berklee.”

Some of my greatest mentors today are also people I met at Berklee.

— Yael Danon

Sometimes, these friendships are formed within the classes themselves. “My favorite memory was the songwriting ensemble,” says Mahoney. “Five other students and I were tasked with putting on a performance that showcased six original songs. It was largely directed by us, and I adored working and hanging out with them with each one of us bringing our own unique creative and musical skills and working together effectively.”

Ziguinchor adds, “A collaboration that marked me was participating in Marty Walsh’s rock workshop—learning new songs, recording with everyone and performing at the Berklee Performance Center was so thrilling. I met a lot of talented artists and wonderful people here.”

Inspirational Moments

Making the most of those five weeks can take determination and focus. Mahoney shared about her experience finding her footing: “I would not have gotten nearly as much out of the program had I not relentlessly contacted people there about performance opportunities and one-on-one meetings with teachers. I learned that my voice deserves to be heard, which is something I hadn’t grasped before as someone who typically fears taking up space,” she said. And that work has continued to pay off. “Since then,” she said, “my musical endeavors have been flourishing, and I’ve won voice competitions, opened for well-known artists, written songs and performed with my peers and friends. I wouldn’t have developed this confidence to seek out scary and valuable opportunities without my experiences at Berklee.”

Danon also commented on the significant growth she experienced, both personally and among the community of musicians she was journeying with: “It's amazing how much you can learn in such a short time there, from expanding your musical toolkit to picking up habits that stick with you for life. Berklee showed me that music isn't a solo journey—it's about connecting, creating, and sharing with others who are just as passionate and committed.”

The Path Ahead

While the course offerings during the Aspire: Five-Week Music Intensive vary widely, from music therapy and screen scoring to business and production, Ziguinchor recalls some of the most important skills she honed during the program were also the most foundational. “Thanks to the Singer-Songwriting Lab with Claire Flynt, I was reminded of the essence of composing and writing new songs, and the importance of incorporating a steady warm-up routine during my private lessons.”

Danon reflected, “The Aspire program was both a musical and personal transformation for me. It opened my eyes to various perspectives on music and taught me to embrace my true self in an environment where authenticity was celebrated.”

Of course, it’s impossible to reduce the value of the program to any one or two lessons. As Mahoney explained, the whole experience has to be taken together. “It was truly something special to get to be a part of the Berklee summer program,” she said. "If you find yourself attending, be ready to dive into a crazy world of running between life-changing lectures, 3:00 a.m. jam sessions with mini Chick Coreas, and feeling supported and free on a stage doing what you love most.”