Early this spring, the Boston Pops embarked on their annual tour, bringing an 85-piece orchestra to selected cities around the US. Thanks to Pops violinist and Berklee Chief of Staff Melissa Howe, Berklee Online student Bonny Baez was given the rare opportunity to go behind the scenes and see how the orchestra operates.
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Bonny came to the US in his early twenties to escape an economic collapse in his home country. His first stop in the US was Nantucket, followed by more than a decade in New York City. Now living in Austin, TX with his wife and toddler son, he is devoting himself to a dream that had been on hold for many years: the study of music.
“My original path was to be a musician,” Bonny explains, “but when I moved to New York City, I found it a little hard for me to be a musician at that point. I was an immigrant and I just needed to get a job real quick, so I decided to go down the graphic design route.”
He quickly found success in the field of video game production, first as a graphic designer then as an animator.
In the past two years, Bonny has transitioned from his full-time career as an animator, and now splits his time between freelance animation work and a focus on music. With Berklee Online, he earned a jazz guitar certificate and discovered a passion for film scoring that led him into the Music Composition for Film, TV, and Games bachelor’s program. Bonny cites Berklee Online instructor Ben Newhouse as a significant influence, pointing to a chance in-person meeting with Ben as an instrumental moment in defining his career path.
It was also somewhat by chance that Bonny had the opportunity to meet Melissa Howe on the recent Boston Pops tour. Over the winter term, Bonny studied Music Theory and Composition 1 with Melissa, and when he heard that the Boston Pops were coming to Austin, he asked Melissa whether she’d be on the tour.
“She suggested, ‘let me know if you’re going to be there and we can meet,’” Bonnie says. “I was expecting just come to the stage, say hello, shake her hand, and go back to my seat, but the week of the show she said she was trying to get me a backstage pass.”
Melissa is happy to summarize her 20+ years playing with the Boston Pops as a great gig, but it’s also a unique outlet for her twin passions of musical performance and education.
“It’s interesting with that orchestra,” she explains. “It’s much more accessible to people who aren’t familiar with classical music, and that’s been its mission from the beginning. You can get somebody like Bonny, who has been in music as an amateur for much of his life, and he’s exactly the right person to come to a concert like that, because his ears are open and his imagination is fertile.”
The program for this tour was a tribute to John Williams, a titan of film scoring and a former conductor of the Pops. From Star Wars to Jaws, Indiana Jones to Jurassic Park, Williams’ scores are familiar to much of the world and a valuable point of entry for an aspiring film composer.
“For Bonny to hear that complex orchestral music and to hear the live orchestra sound totally captured his imagination,” Melissa says. “There’s just so much color that gets lost when it’s in a recording.”
“I had never stepped into the stage where the orchestra is set,” Bonny explains, “so that was eye-opening. You know, I’m dealing with samples all the time and it’s very different. You’re kind of in the box. … I can see how far each thing is from each thing. To see microphone placement, just to understand where everything is sitting in relationship with each other.”
He adds, “you’re listening to scores on a CD or a stream or whatever, and you can kind of get a sense of what the mix is trying to get you to focus on, but seeing it in-person, you choose what you want to focus on. I’ve heard the score for Jaws a million times, and to me that day felt like it was the first time I’d ever heard it. It’s a different experience in-person. Also, the energy of the musicians … you can’t see that through a speaker.”
Bonny says he is grateful to Melissa for taking the time to make that experience happen for him. “She’s been an amazing instructor,” he says, “she’s passionate about teaching.”
Freshly inspired, Bonny is looking forward to more learning as he works his way towards graduation in the spring of 2021.
“I’ve already had to turn down some gigs because I’m trying to prioritize Berklee,” he says.
Some days are animation work days, but he’s always more excited to open up his DAW and dig into his coursework. Most of all, he’s proud to be an example to his son by pursuing his dreams.
“Berklee was my dream university when I was a music student back in the Dominican Republic. But being in a third world country, there is a lot of red tape that I would have to jump to be able to make it to Berklee in Boston. I’m assuming you have all these international students who share a similar story. This Online option is amazing. For those of us, it feels like it’s an unobtainable dream to get this knowledge from Berklee. Having the option to actually take it online, it feels like you’re accomplishing something you’ve always wanted to do.”