Young talented Slovak musician, Ester Wiesner is studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, and right now is in her final year of the Bachelor Degree in Jazz Composition and Vocal Performance. Ester is planning to spend a couple more years in the US performing, teaching and studying a Master Degree. Eventually, she’d like to come back to Slovakia and start a school of jazz and contemporary music. Ester told us about her studies in the US, future plans and encouraged us on having an entrepreneurial spirit and to be open-minded.
Mladiinfo: When did you have your ‘first touch’ with the music? How did the beginnings of your career look like?
Ester: The first touch happened before I was even born! My mum was recording an album throughout her pregnancy and my childhood was filled with music as well. I started learning the piano at the age of five and I have been singing in a church band since I was four. I didn’t really enjoy practising the piano and so I never thought music would become my career. Everything changed when I was twelve and I started studying singing with professor Eva Pacovska in Nitra. When she showed me all the amazing things a human voice can do with a little bit of guidance I was fascinated. For the first time, I really enjoyed practising music. I remember spending hours trying to find again the beautiful sounds my teacher made come out of me in the lesson. It was she who encouraged me to apply to a secondary school of performing arts.
Mladiinfo: Jazz music is dominating in your portfolio. Who or what is your main inspiration?
Ester: I don’t really have a musical idol I follow. From each of the artists I listen to I “steal” something else. Some influence me by character traits, some by lyrics, some by musical ideas, etc. Even more often I get inspired by very simple things. A conversation I hear on the bus, nature, friends, situations that life brings I want to put them into my music. The only constant inspirations are my parents. My mom has always been true to what she believes in, even during communism she wasn’t afraid to disagree with the regime in her music. My dad is always actively looking for opportunities to encourage others and to offer help. I would like to be like them one day and have the lifestyle mirrored in my music.
Mladiinfo: You are studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Was it difficult to get there? What one needs to do to get a scholarship or other ways of funding by oneself?
Ester: I never thought I’d get into Berklee. There were eight thousand applicants that year and I knew that most of them had access to jazz education than I had. Most of what I knew about jazz I researched or picked up from masterclasses in Cyprus, Italy, Czech Republic and Slovakia where I was fortunate to receive scholarships. By googling “how to practice jazz” I found out about Berklee, and so there was only thing I asked for my eighteenth birthday – a three day trip to Paris. That is where the auditions to Berklee were held. I didn’t tell anyone I went to audition, I thought there is no chance but I still wanted to try. I also knew how much the tuition costs and that there is no way I can afford it. Once I heard I got into Berklee I spent three months intensively looking for sponsors. Every day I sent at least 10 e-mails asking for sponsorship and support. I was able to find more than a hundred sponsors, which was sufficient for one semester. I didn’t know what will happen after the first semester but I was hoping once I am at Berklee I will find a way. I found more sponsors for the next semester and then I received full support from the college.
Mladiinfo: Why did you decide to study in the US?
Ester: To me the school was important, not really the country. Berklee was the only college offering exactly the kind of program I wanted, it had a very a good reputation and renown professors. Study programs in the US are very personalized and there is a lot freedom with the choice of subjects. Students even start the college without a specific major* declared. They try a few programs and usually in their second year they decide. They can combine a few majors into their own if they wish and they can also change their major later. Another reason why I think the studies in the US are personalized is a lot of private contact with the professors. Every teacher has an office hour once or twice a week. The students can come in and discuss with the professor their private class topic related projects, as well as whatever they didn’t understand in the class. The professors often help talented students find their first jobs. The teachers are still active in their fields, most of them teach only part time. This is why they are able to offer the students very fresh and practical information right from the current market.
*major=study program, field of study
Mladiinfo: What was the most challenging for you when you left home to study abroad?
Ester: Moving to a new continent where I didn’t know anyone was very adventurous. There were a lot of challenges, mostly practical. My tight budget didn’t allow for any extra expenses and so any small thing I had to pay meant that I had to cut on something else. Housing was one of the biggest challenges, because of a misunderstanding I didn’t have a place to stay for my first two nights. Then, miraculously, I found quite an affordable room in an apartment close to the school. However, I didn’t know that I will need an American citizen as a cosigner for the lease. Luckily, there was a Slovak-American willing to help me. Another issue was that the room was completely unfurnished and I couldn’t afford to buy new furniture by any means. I ended up walking around in a suburb of Boston and asking people if they don’t have items they want to get rid of. Thankfully, there were always people who helped me and I learnt not to be afraid to find creative solutions and ask for help.
Mladiinfo: You are very young although already having a great international success and couple of awards. What do you consider to be the biggest success of yours?
Ester: I think it was the “30 under 30” award I received last year. Forbes Slovakia annually awards it to thirty successful Slovaks under the age of thirty. This year I was very happy about leading a three-day music workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa and preparing the students of The African Leadership Academy for an international music competition. Talking to the students enriched me so much. Their experiences were unlike anything I’ve heard before. Most recently I was very grateful to have a concert tour in Germany and Switzerland, which ended a couple of days ago.
Mladiinfo: Lastly what would you say to young people who want to study abroad, but are maybe too afraid to do so? How would you encourage those youngsters with similar wishes and ambitions to try it out as you did?
Ester: If you don’t try, you’ll never know. People keep thinking world-class universities are looking for young geniuses but they simply want young motivated people willing to work on what they want. How much you already know doesn’t matter that much – we go to schools to learn. If you already knew everything, there would be no point in applying to college! Lastly, even if it doesn’t work out the first time I encourage you to try again and again. Just the entrance process itself will teach you a lot about yourself and develop your skills hugely.
Interview by: Ivana Petrisková
WATCH one of the Ester’s music performances.