Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Michael Sean Harris takes folk music to another level

Published:Sunday | August 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Michael Sean Harris (left) and Mario Evon doing the Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson song 'The Girl is Mine' at Classic Duets, held at Redbones Blues Café, New Kingston.- Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer

Keisha Hill, Gleaner Writer

His voice - smooth and melodious - has melted hearts and warmed souls all over the world; seamlessly merging classic folk and contemporary music with his own unique sound. Once your ears have been indulged in Michael Sean Harris' voice, you will never turn back.

His voice has been heard from Greece to Austria, giving you a smooth ride across the Caribbean Sea all the way to Europe and back again. Recently, Berklee's first international campus in Valencia, Spain, experienced Harris' creativity in compositions and performance. He participated in Berklee Valencia's inaugural master's degree programme in Music Technology Innovation and spent one year advancing his skills with the application of technology.

Harris, assistant director of the School of Music at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, said he will utilise his expertise in the classroom by sharing with his students what he has learnt with the hope that they will take their own style to another level and create their own unique spin.

"I am going to try a little experiment; a new approach to learning to bring out the creative output of the students and expand on the technology here to include recording, sound design, and composition," Harris said.

Known for mixing authentic Jamaican folk music, Harris also plans to explore the genre some more and capitalise on it. "Other people in the world are doing it, and they are loving the

music and making a living from it, but we ignore it. Folk music is so powerful, but we do not know what we have here," Harris said.

The desire to become a musician and performer seized Harris after his first year at the University of the West Indies, while he was a member of Cathi Levy's Little People and Teen Players Club. While a member, and also later with Ashe Performing Arts Ensemble, Harris - working in a variety of musical and theatrical styles - toured the United States, the Caribbean, and the United Kingdom.

He then went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where he graduated with a bachelor of music. In 1996, he studied voice and pursued a dual major in music synthesis and contemporary writing and production, and he was the convocation speaker at his graduation in May 2000.

When the opportunity presented itself for Harris to pursue the master's degree, he was elated and went through the rigorous application process. He was even happier when he received news that he was accepted to the institution, but then the reality of paying for his studies seemed overwhelming.

"I applied to Carreras and the CHASE Fund and only received a response from the latter. I began to liquidate my assets because this was something I really wanted to do. Up to the day before I was leaving, I wasn't sure what was happening. Through the help of family and friends and my church that gave me a scholarship, I started my journey," Harris said.

Harris arrived at Berklee Valencia's orientation a few minutes after they had begun, with his luggage in tow and nowhere to live. "It was quite a journey, but I went with faith. The school's administration found a temporary apartment for me while I looked around, and after one month, I settled into the apartment [and] I stayed for the entire year," Harris said.

Berklee's first international campus in Valencia, Spain, offers a unique curriculum and an unparalleled faculty of inspiring educators and cutting-edge industry professionals. The Valencia campus offers a new way for musicians around the world to join the global music community - as performers, as practitioners, and as leaders.

Opened in 2012, the campus is housed in the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, an iconic opera house designed for optimal musical performance and equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Music is essential to the history and people of Valencia, where students are exposed to a wide spectrum of cultures, audiences, and master musicians, and to some of the richest musical cultures in the world—including those of South America, the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa.

Students learn in individual classroom, lab, and studio settings to further their musical range by applying technology to compose, perform, and produce music. They work in collaboration with Berklee's world-renowned faculty to develop and execute a culminating experience or thesis project that uses music technology in a way that best speaks to their artistic vision and career goals.

"There were just 20 of us in the programme and a little more than 100 persons in addition to faculty and staff at the campus. It was a lot of work and we also had to perform outside of school," Harris said. He has performed for Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, while he was conferred with an honorary doctorate by Berklee Valencia, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Spain and Principality of Andorra James Costos, and King Juan Carlos of Spain.

The Berklee College of Music was founded on the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music is through the study and practice of contemporary music. For more than half a century, the college has evolved to reflect the state-of-the-art of music and the music business, leading the way with the world's first baccalaureate (bachelors) studies in jazz, rock, electric guitar, film scoring, songwriting, turntables, electronic production, and more than a dozen other genres and fields of study.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com