Aspiring musicians get boost with full Berklee scholarships

Eighteen-year-old Nia Ferguson of Dorchester has been singing with her church choir since the age of five. Even at that young age, Ferguson says, she decided that music would always be a part of her life.

Earlier this month, Ferguson's dream of pursuing music as her life's work got a huge boost when she along with eight other neighborhood people were awarded full, four-year scholarships for the prestigious Berklee College of Music.

The awards came on August 9, after the nine completed Berklee City Music - an intensive five-week mentoring program.

"Our program is designed to encourage underserved urban youths to pursue higher education," said Krystal Banfield, Director of City Music Boston. "We are committed to providing financially disadvantaged young men and women access to the education they want and deserve. It is a real head start for them."

"Receiving this scholarship means the world to me," says Ferguson. "Not only is it a huge burden off of me and my parents, but I now have the opportunity to explore my passion."

Majoring in both Music Education and Contemporary Writing Production, Ferguson says she aspires to soon start her career as a gospel vocalist.

"It will be my way of thanking God for blessing me with this gift. This is something I'm looking forward to doing for the rest of my life. I hope to bring something new to gospel music," she says.

Another scholarship winner from Dorchester, David Alexis, 18, toured all over the country with his church choir - Voices of Renaissance. It was an experience Alexis says inspired him to want to become a professional singer.

"I was in middle school when I decided that singing was something I really enjoyed. Something I strongly wanted to pursue in my life. I am extremely excited about this scholarship, it is a dream come true," Alexis says.

While studying Music Education and Contemporary Writing Production at Berklee, Alexis also hopes to start a five-person jazz band. After Berklee, he plans to attend grad school and earn a degree in choral conducting.

Raised in a family of musicians, Mattapan's Peter Handy Jr, 18, says he has always been interested in music. With the support of his family and his church, Handy worked at becoming a talented saxophonist.

For seven years, Handy says he has attended Berklee's City Music prep programs - crediting them for his accomplishments.

"I was surrounded by people who really cared about my success, they even provided me with private lessons," Handy says. "These programs have taught me a lot about my interests and made me realize that I want, more than anything, to follow the path of music."

Handy plans to major in film scoring in order to further his education various art forms.

"I'm hoping to learn more about composing music that support other aspects of art such as movies, plays, and ballets. This is a challenge I have decided to take on because I know it will push me to become a stronger musician," said Handy. "I am overjoyed at receiving this scholarship and I'm truly thankful to God for blessing me with this gift and the opportunity to accomplish my dreams."

Dorchester's Matthew Williams, 18, aspires to become a producer someday.

"[Music] allows me to communicate who I am without even speaking," said Williams, who has been a dedicated drummer for six years. "Music is my way of speaking."

Williams says the scholarship to Berklee is his motivation to work even harder to accomplish his goals.

"It takes me a step further in establishing myself and reaching for what I want. I feel so honored for this opportunity. It means all my hard work has been recognized, I earned this chance at a successful future."

Among the other 2007 scholarship recipients for Berklee College of Music are Kyle Miles, Audi Lynch, Vancil Cooper, Kevin M. Duffy and Jonathan Howell.