The interview with Zeynep Aydin, last year's recipient of Arif Mardin Fellowship at Berklee

1. How did you hear about the Arif Mardin Fellowship at Berklee College of Music? Had you known that The Society offered funding for Turkish artists to participate in the program? 

I heard about this scholarship from Barış Alp Dönmez, who also attended the Berklee 5 Week Summer Program and is studying at Berklee now. He was always a musician that I admired in my high school,  Galatasaray High School. He wanted to pursue a career in music and his determination had a strong influence on my musical career. Although studying at Galatasaray was not easy, I was surrounded by other musician friends who shared my same passions and whom I played with at school and therefore I decided to apply for the scholarship.

2. Tell us a little about your experience? How was the program? 

Before attending the program, I worked really hard on my  audition piece. It wasn’t easy to understand the piece at first sight because of its traditional Armenian rhythm. However, my special interests in odd time signatures made me determined to be able to play it. It was the best way to express myself. When I was in Turkey, I thought that was the hardest thing I could achieve but when I first started taking lessons at Berklee and met new musicians from all around the world, I finally understood that being able to play that piece was just the beginning of a new era in my musical career. At first, I was not sure that I could have the same level of musicality as my classmates. But as we all practiced, I saw that practicing was the key and I could reach any level if I practiced enough. Before going to Berklee, every student had to take two online placement assessments in order to be placed with other musicians of the same level. After these examinations, there was also a practical audition that was held on the first day of the program. Thanks to my ABRSM Music Theory exam preparation and my experience of playing with different orchestras for many years, I was placed into the highest class and had the chance to play with great musicians. My musicianship class was the highest at Berklee, that’s why it was not so easy to adapt to at first, but then I got used to practicing much more and learned a lot. Jazz Lab helped me develop a personal style while improvising. Reading Lab and theory classes were really important for my theoretical knowledge and my fluency in music so they helped me a lot when it came to learning jazz theory. At the end of these intensive 5 weeks, we had concerts with my ensemble and examinations which demonstrated all of the amazing things we learned throughout the program.

3. How has your experience as an Arif Mardin Fellow impact your work as a musician/artist? 

The most important thing I gained as a musician is that I have developed a personal style through improvisation. Improvisation has always been complicated for me. But as I practiced with my friends and teachers, I gained more confidence and created my own musical approach for improvisation. 

4. What’s next for you? 

I have a special interest in coding and so hope to study Computer Sciences in the future. I also plan to get a professional degree in music and continue my music career. And again, this scholarship helped me to feel like a real musician, and I will be forever thankful for the opportunity.