India's Rising Stars Shine at Berklee Summer Program

Bollywood star Shalmali Kholgade and singer Pooja Tiwari added technical skills to their natural talents.

August 15, 2019

Each summer, hundreds of students from all over the world come to Berklee for the annual Aspire: Five-Week Music Performance Intensive. This year’s cohort included two students from India who had very different experiences in the industry: Bollywood star and singer-songwriter Shalmali Kholgade, and Pooja Tiwari, who won a scholarship to Five-Week after singing on A. R. Rahman’s reality show, ARRived. 

Kholgade holds a degree in ancient Indian culture, but had never studied music in a formal classroom setting. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” she said. “And I feel the need to keep evolving and make sure my musical act is also evolving.” 

“My time here boosted my confidence because I learned a lot of tools to enable [my] writing, to broaden its horizons.”

—Shalmali Kholgade

During her time in Boston, Kholgade soaked up the musical knowledge and the relationships with her teachers and fellow students, including members of the Berklee India Exchange. “My teachers were just fantastic,” she said. “They were so helpful even outside of the classroom.” She also loved “listening to a lot of talent from all over the world.” 

Tiwari agreed, saying her favorite class was her ensemble class. “There are four to five people from different parts of the world,” she said. “We would assemble in different rooms and share our ideas, our thoughts. I wouldn’t be getting that anywhere else.”


Pooja Tiwari won a scholarship to Berklee's summer program after singing on A. R. Rahman’s reality show, ARRived.

Both students also spoke of the technical skills they learned in their courses: Kholgade said she’d picked up ear training and “musical language” skills. “I’ve always felt a little underequipped to communicate with my band as to what I want to do with a certain piece of music,” she said. “I always seem to hear it in my head.” Her time at Berklee helped give her the language and tools to communicate those ideas to her band members. “I work with full backing vocalists who also dance in my band, so we all sing and dance,” she explained. “I do the vocal arrangements for them and it’s all by ear, but now, I feel like I will be able to do it more efficiently and faster.”

Kholgade said she’ll be applying the skills she learned at Berklee to her singing, arranging, and songwriting. “I’m looking forward to writing a lot,” she said. “My time here boosted my confidence because I learned a lot of tools to enable that writing, to broaden its horizons.” 

Tiwari said she “learned so many things in five weeks,” including improvisation skills, composing, and arranging in a variety of genres, including jazz. She is studying audio engineering at the KM Music Conservatory in India (through another scholarship awarded to contestants on Rahman’s show) and says she wants to be “a one-woman army” of musical skills. 

The interviews for this story were conducted by Colette Greenstein.