Your standard travel blogger would talk about each place that they go to in its grandeur – where to go, where to eat, where to stay, and what to avoid. Though in Authentisera, I want to be more personal with you guys when it comes to going to a foreign place. There is a lot more context involved in travelling. We travel because we want to get away from our daily routine. We travel because we are in search for something that our current environment might not be able to provide.
My trip to España was not just to bring out the inner ‘Vera the Explorer’. It was my first time travelling to another country alone without any ties – no family, no friends, nothing. It was a trip where I wanted to once again prove my independence even if it was only for a short period.
On the other hand, it was also a trip that I planned since the summer of 2016, when I realized how long it has been for me since I sang and performed. I used to be very active in the performing arts, particularly singing, from when I was maybe 3 years old to my teenage years. Though, all that changed when I entered college. I was given a new set of goals & priorities and I gladly accepted them as a challenge for me to be more than just a performing artist. Though what I didn’t expect was how putting aside singing was going to take a toll on me down the road, even in my work life.
Me stopping felt like I was hiding a part of myself. I felt like I didn’t give my 100% as a person. I felt like I was not being truthful to who I was… I danced during college, why didn’t I make time for singing? I had spare time after work, why didn’t I jam out more? I regretted the fact that I didn’t put in the effort. On the other hand, the reality check that that resentment brought was that it made me realize what mattered most – that the passion to being my own artist was still there calling out to me.
Now, what has Spain got to do with singing and performing, right?
It only took 2 weeks in the beautiful beach city of Valencia to reconnect and be myself again, when I decided to attend Berklee’s 2-week Summer Performance Program.
On July 16, 2017, I departed from Barcelona at 10 A.M. via train and arrived in Valencia past noon. Feeling like the Hulk while carrying my 18 kg luggage and a backpack, I caught a bus that took me to the center of the city where my Airbnb was. I was able to find the apartment without getting too lost in the rustic alleyways of the Ciutat Vella (thank you, Google Maps). And mind you this was my first trip alone, so finding places without any human help was a huge achievement.
My two lovely hosts, Olga and Marilina, and their three adorable golden retrievers (Max, Menta, & Bony), were there to greet and make me feel at home. I settled down in my room, unpacked, and rested for a few hours before getting dinner with my pal, Livi (a fellow summer program attendee who I met in Barcelona). We went to this canned seafood place called the La Conservera in Rusafa District and boy did we have some fine preserved goods. Once we had our fill, we went back to our respective Airbnbs and got ready for our first day.
Hola, Berklee Valencia
The city center was a 15 to 20 minute bus ride to the campus, which was located inside the famous Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències or in English – the City of Arts and Sciences (if you watched the movie, Tomorrowland, yes that place).
The first half of our day was a mix of different emotions. From getting confused during our registration to feeling underwhelmed by our breakfast, the campus’ energy filled us with so much excitement that all of that didn’t matter. The orientation was nothing out of the norm. We met the summer faculty, learned the do’s and don’ts in and outside of Berklee, the breakdown of daily class schedules & optional activities we could participate in, and how we were all required to perform in the end-of-the-program concerts. It got all of the attendees excited for what was yet to come… But then we were told that placement auditions were to be held later that afternoon. Our excitement then turned into anxiety.
Coming out of orientation, most of us were all thinking about the auditions. We all knew that it was coming, but the fact that it was coming very soon just struck a lot of nerves. To calm ourselves down, we decided to eat lunch outside campus and later took time to practice our pieces.
My placement audition was slated earlier than the others, so I had less time to panic. Our auditions were split into two parts: the interview and the performance. For the interview, an assessor asked me questions regarding my background (personally & musically) and if I knew much about music theory. I knew that I didn’t have a lot of theoretical background in music so I told him that it was one of the reasons why I came to learn. For the performance part of the audition, I decided to sing Sara Bareilles’ ‘Love Song’, a tune that I was already comfortable performing. And overall, I think the audition went well. The assessor then told me that the placement results would be posted at the lobby next morning.
Relieved that the rough part of the day was over, I met up with the group in the hallway where we had a mini-jam session while waiting for the others to be done with their auditions. It was only the first day, but I remember being in awe of all these musicians who came from the likes of France, Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Brazil, Germany, Russia, India, Egypt, the USA, –breathes- and many more.
Once we were all complete, we all got some fake paella at a café near campus, resuming our talks on the music industry and getting-to-know-each-others before heading back in the evening to watch the summer faculty concert.
Let the Summer Classes Begin
We had classes from 9:30 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. Each day in the summer program was comprised of three parts: musicianship, instrument, and ensemble (make it four – including lunch, make it five if you had more than one ensemble).
- Musicianship class would start off the day wherein our minds and ears get warmed up with lessons on theory. Classes were split into 6 levels and you were placed depending on your theoretical and general knowledge of music. I was placed in Level 1 – thank God – and was taught by Fernando Huergo, a Berklee Professor from the Boston Campus. He was awesome; he was like that patient dad figure who did his best to get us to understand the basics of music theory. In general, the class was really refreshing and we had a blast laughing at our mistakes whenever we did ear training and rhythmic exercises.
- Instrument seminar would come right after musicianship and would focus on the instrument that you choose to develop in the summer performance program. Unlike musicianship class, it had more diversity – with each class having voices coming from different backgrounds and experiences. Jerome Kyles, another Berklee Professor from Boston – who was honestly a star in his own right – taught the class and for me was the most memorable. From getting a slight anxiety attack (more about it later on) during the first few days of classes to doing our daily breathing, warm-up, and improvisation exercises, we really enjoyed each other’s company sharing the instrument we loved most in one common space.
- Lastly, the ensembles were held in the afternoon and it was the practical culmination of all the lessons we learned in our musicianship and instrument sessions. Each ensemble varied as well, with some focused on genres like flamenco and world music, while others had more of a band setup like ours. The ensembles were our official band for the two weeks in the program in which we would perform a few new songs in the weekly concerts.
For our ensembles’ first week performance, we performed ‘Una Mas’ by trumpeter, Kenny Dorham and ‘Valerie’ by Amy Winehouse; while as for our final week performance, we kicked-off with ‘Stompin at the Savoy’ by Edgar Sampson and Stevie Wonder’s ‘ I Wish’.
- We also had a music industry day where musicianship and instrumental classes were replaced by music technology and production sessions. Later in the afternoon, we were given a career talk on what kinds of jobs one can get in the music industry itself.
Things We Did On The Side
In order to get the most from the summer performance program, they gave us optional activities that we could participate in after classes. These were gospel choir, batucada, and open mic night – with each having their own set of public performances.
I was able to participate in 2 out of 3.
- Gospel choir practice was held 2-3 times a week and was moderated by whom else, but my voice teacher, Jerome. Even though this was held towards the end of the day, it was filled with a lot of energy for the songs made you want to stand up and praise – no kidding! Even if voice wasn’t his or her instrument of choice, everyone was welcome to take part in it. We were all split into types of voice: altos, sopranos, tenors, etc. and were setup around a black grand piano. Our rehearsals gave me major flashbacks to when I was singing mass songs in high school. We practiced two pieces – ‘I Shall Wear A Crown’ by Thomas Whitfield and ‘Better’ by Hezekiah Walker for the end-of-the-program concert. And FYI, both songs gave us major last song syndromes.
- One of the highlights for me was definitely performing an original song in my first-ever open mic night. There were three open mics hosted this year (the most they ever had so far). I remember thinking of whether or not I should do it. Thankfully, I was encouraged by my friends in the program to get on with it – that it was the best time to do it with people who more or less might be feeling the same way as me. I shared a 10-minute slot with my friend, Diego (who I also met in Barcelona with Livi), and performed a song I entitled, ‘Invisible’. At first I was crazy nervous, though the most magical feeling while performing was when people were clapping along with the song towards the end. One thing’s for sure – this open mic was definitely not going to be the last. 😉
I guess since Monday was orientation and audition day, we had to go to Berklee on a Saturday for a class in flamenco, a batch photoshoot, and a beach lunch. Sunday was our only day off but we decided to go out as a group and be legitimate tourists.
I was late for the Flamenco class because I forgot to wear my bathing suit under my clothes for the beach later on. And when I did get to the class, it had already started and I was kind of lost trying to understand the ongoing discussion. I watched a flamenco show in Madrid, so it was nice listening to the lecturer break down the elements of the art. They brought in a dancer, singer, and a Spanish guitarist (who also brought his talented young son that played as well) for the class. My friend, Katherine, the group’s pride and joy from Peru, was also brought up to the stage to support on the cajón.
After the class, they told us to proceed to the stairs entrance of the City of Arts and Sciences for the class photo-op and once that was over, we all got on the bus shuttle that took us to our paella at the beach.
We reached the restaurant and took our seats in anticipation of the famous Valencian paella. Honestly speaking, it was a long wait, to the point that the servers kept serving us appetizers on appetizers. Funnily enough, when the paella, in all its glory (on a huge pan that you could probably fit three people in) did arrive, we were all full! I managed to take a few bites of it though and people weren’t kidding when they say the best paella is in Valencia.
The weather was perfect for a beach dip, so when lunch was over, we headed to Malvarossa Beach for some vitamin sea. It was my first time to be on a public beach in Europe and interestingly enough, it was also my first time seeing topless women – on a public beach in Europe. It took some time for me to adjust my perspective (and eyes – I came from the PH & the UAE – you don’t see this often), but it was all good later on. Had nothing but mad respect for the beach scene in Malvarossa!
After we all got our dose of Balearic sea salt and Spanish sunrays, the gang and I got some sangria nearby and toasted to an amazing day.
I am that type of person who likes organizing & planning. So when the group wanted to go around the center of Valencia, the area that I lived in for those two weeks (everybody else lived near the campus), I ‘Katniss Everdeened’ and made a customized itinerary for us. Yes, I am a nerd like that (long live the nerds)!
We all met up noontime at the campus lobby and headed for old Valencia via bus. Our agenda included the following:
- Torres de Serranos – One of the twelve gates that used to form the Christian Wall, the ancient city wall of Valencia.
- Plaza de la Virgen – A plaza that had the rustic Turia Fountain, the backside of the Valencia Cathedral, and some outdoor cafés and restaurants.
- Lunch @ El Dorita – A convenient tapas bar where we had some pretty good ham & eggs, patatas bravas, and tried the notorious Agua de Valencia (we did not get tipsy at all – not).
- Llotja de la Seda – A UNESCO World Heritage site that is acclaimed for its gothic-style architecture and historical relevance to the city. (We weren’t able to go in because it closes early on a Sunday – we did take some photos in front of it though!)
- Souvenir Shopping around the Plaza de la Reina – If you want to get some cheap, but good-quality souvenirs in Valencia, this is the place to be!
- Valencia Cathedral – A Roman Catholic parish church established in 1262, that has a mixture of different artistic styles from Romanesque to Neoclassical. Said to hold one of the Holy Chalices defended to be the true Holy Grail (to be frank, I didn’t know this until now).
- More Souvenir Shopping and Some Clothes Shopping at Modernisme Plaza of the City Hall of Valencia – self-explanatory
- Churros @ Orxateria Santa Caterina – Said to be the best churros Valencia has to offer! We were pretty satisfied. 🙂
- The Great Valencia Fair – A month-long summer celebration where there are fair rides, free concerts, gastronomic experiences, and more waiting for you at the Turia Gardens (we were only able to ride the ferris wheel – and were all scared af).
Our Last Hoorah
July 28th was our last day and it was very similar to our first day in Berklee, an emotional rollercoaster. The day started off with a melancholic mood; I couldn’t believe the two weeks flew by so fast and that the next day, I was to board a train back to Madrid for my flight back to Abu Dhabi the morning after.
I entered the campus doors for one last time and had ensemble practice for our performance later in the evening. When we finished, our ensemble decided to get breakfast together at the campus cantina, a time where we got to know each other more since we had no time to do so in our practice sessions. Afterwards, while others went to their second practice sessions, Ines (our pianist from Switzerland) and I decided to shop along Carrer Colon for our performance outfits. We then took a cab back to campus to attend the giving of certificates that afternoon.
Whenever someone got called up to get their ‘diplomas’ I couldn’t help but feel proud to what people were able to accomplish in the program. To see everything materialize in front of me, in the form of a signed sheet of paper was a weirdly unbelievable sensation. When I got called, at first I wasn’t even sure if it was my name (because they said it in a very Spanish accent) – but luckily it was, because I was already standing up and that would’ve been awkward. I got my certificate and thanked my teachers before heading back to my seat with this ‘I can’t believe it’s almost over’ feeling sinking in as I sat down.
I decided to go back to my Airbnb after the ceremony to prepare my things for my early train the next day. It was a good decision, knowing that the group was planning to cap-off the night with some sangria and partying (which is not a good combination for this girl, if you get what I mean). Once I got everything set, I started prepping for the evening to come.
When our ensemble opened the concert, I remember hitting a feeling of euphoria. I was at home once again, but this time I was with a group of talented musicians who I will always remember as my ‘funky boys and nasty girls’ (which unsurprisingly became our ensemble’s band name). Each performance that went on that floating Berklee stage was a proud moment for everyone – for some it was their first, some their 100th. We all cheered on each other the best we could, because it was relatively the last time we’ll be seeing each other perform live. After all, we did come from different corners of the world.
Once the final concert was over, that was it for us program attendees. It hit us so hard that we just couldn’t leave the concert venue. All of us did our best to say goodbye to each person that they met in the program – really tight hugs, exchanging of numbers, last-minute photo taking and all. There was even an impromptu jam session with the cajóns where we all just gathered around and clapped our hands to the beat.
Our group didn’t want to say goodbye just yet though, we were clingy that way. So as planned, all of us took cabs into the night life of Valencia – grubbing down our dinner at 12 A.M., drinking (and just me ‘kinda’ getting drunk to) some sangria, breaking it down at a club that allowed our under 21 year olds to enter, and then having another set of drinks at a bar across the street. And in-between all this, some were already giving their goodbyes – imagine the change in emotions that we had to go through each time someone had to go?
My favorite part of the night was when we – the last ones standing – decided to go to the beach at 4 in the morning. We were all exhausted but managed to watch the dark waves approach and recede our cold feet while reminiscing the memories we had in Valencia the past 14 days. Of course, it was hard for all of us when we had to leave the beach an hour later (but heck yeah we made the most out of it!). Our goodbyes were bittersweet and we all wished to wake up later as if it were just another day in the program.
I took a taxi back to the apartment, took a shower to get all that sand off my body, slept for an hour, then got ready for my 9:40 A.M. train to Madrid.
It wasn’t all perfect weather, singing, and sangrias though.
I went in scared to find out if me investing in this experience would just backfire. After years of not sharing this part of myself, what if singing wasn’t for me anymore? I was constantly anticipating my own failure and when you do put yourself in that mental state, it will eventually happen. And that’s when I had an emotional breakdown.
It was during an instrumental seminar where I kept messing up during our vocal exercises. Jerome noticed the consistency whenever it was my turn; concerned he asked me if I had performance anxiety. When someone points out a part of you that you’ve masked for quite some time, your initial reaction would definitely be shocked. I wanted to cry right then and there, but I realized that that was my fear consuming me. I could’ve walked out, but I decided to stay and continue the class. When it did end, I walked up to Jerome, full of frustration and embarrassment for myself, and told him my story – how I stopped and that I was here to see if this was still for me. I tried not to cry in front of him while we talked, but I still did. Though like he already knew who I was, he got where I was coming from and out of all the other great things that he said to motivate me and calm me down, two things stuck…
“It’s not impossible”
And that I should,
“Trust myself more”
The support that I felt in Valencia is something that I can’t even begin to describe in this entry. From the faculty to the attendees it was overflowing. Moreover, I was extra lucky to have gained new friends (special shoutout to the Valencia crew) in those two weeks. I could have gone somewhere else in search of the same feeling, yes, but there was something about Spain. There was an energy that gravitated me towards it, like I knew that something special was going to happen.
It was a decision that had its own set of risks… I almost didn’t make it to Valencia due to some issues during my application process (visa took time to release, tuition deadlines were not in my favor, etc.), but with the encouragement and support of those that believed in me and what I was capable of doing – I pushed through. Maybe this was the universe testing me how much I wanted it, how far I was willing to go. Because if not then, when would I have got the chance? As each year passes, our responsibilities and priorities fluctuate. When would we ever have the time to do something in a scale like this that is solely for our self-discovery? I knew that being an artist was part of my identity. I just didn’t know to what extent it was. This trip just affirmed a lot of things that I thought were just daydreams and pastimes. And with this, I have no regrets for taking the leap.
So to making me stronger and helping me believe that I could once again… Thank you, Valencia. I’ll never forget you. 🙂
Check-out the video below to see how fun it really was:
BTS Part 1:
BTS Part 2: