Hien: a dream come true

07/09/2014: After completing the Senior year at Milestone, the well-known Hungarian singer was admitted to Berklee College of Music in Boston with a scholarship. She expects the next three years to be the most exciting time of her life and hopes that through her studies she will be able to bring a new voice to the Hungarian music industry. An interview.

Tell us about your entry exam.

At Berklee?

At Milestone first.

It was some time ago, in the Institute’s old office. I had to write a test. I really liked it, because it wasn’t about rote learning, but focused on my skills. I used to take a lot of IQ tests (I still do) and the Milestone test was somewhat similar to them.

And how do you do in the IQ tests?

I don’t know how relevant they are, but I usually get good results.

So how were your results at Milestone?

Well, I did get in.

Fair point. What else was part of the admission procedure?

We talked about a video. It was at this point that I realised Milestone would suit me.

Why?

I had been interested in maths, chemistry – science in general. I’d been very focused on that. So it wasn’t a coincidence that I went to the University of Technology after secondary school. But after a while I felt I didn’t belong. Music had always been there for me, and I started to learn about philosophy, gender studies, the Middle East. And the Milestone video was about Muslim women, so this topic was right up my alley. I hadn’t come across anything like it before.

And you’d already known that you wanted to study abroad.

My cousins from Vietnam all went to the best universities in England and the US. They had positive experiences and I saw that the new environment did them good.

Did you know you wanted to study music when you came to Milestone?

I knew I wanted to make music. Or, more precisely, I wanted to find out if I was cut out to be a singer. So I didn’t come here for orientation, it had always been music. Mind you, hadn’t I been admitted to an American university, I would have chosen another major as well.

But you are going to the US. When did you decide to give Berklee a shot?

Berklee was my childhood dream. I learned about it from the movies at first, and then when I started to sing everybody told me that Berklee was the place to go. This was the reason I came to Milestone. I heard that their main focus was on Oxford and Cambridge – Berklee was the same for musicians, for me.

Berklee was your only option?

Not at all, I applied to other places paces. Not anywhere, though. There was this one school: I really liked the website, but it was only 25th in the rankings, so Ádám (Ádám Zeitler) told me to forget about it. We weren’t going for anything but the top ten.

So you applied to Berklee…

Yes. I sent them everything, my original pieces, even a recording where I played the violin at the age of 11. They watched it and they wanted to meet me. I could choose the city, it was great. I picked Barcelona, but it almost ended in disaster. The thing is, the cab drivers in Barcelona could barely speak English, so my driver took me to a completely different place. When I realized the mistake, I almost broke down. I argued with the driver, I was trying to reach the Barcelona office of Berklee, and luckily they answered. They were very helpful; the coordinator even explained the driver how to get there. She was really cool about it. The interview started immediately when I got there, although it would have been great to have some time to warm up my voice. After the audition there was another interview, it was as important as the music.

How did you feel afterwards? That you did well?

I knew I had given my best.

When did they get back to you?

They said it would take a month, but it was much shorter than that, so I was completely unprepared. I opened the e-mail with shaking hands – it took ages to load. And then I saw the word: ‘Congratulations’.

What was it like?

It might sound strange, but I didn’t feel anything, because I knew if I hadn’t gotten financial aid as well, I wouldn’t be able to go. But when I scrolled down and I saw the $ sign … the world stopped turning. I cannot even describe that.

Tears?

Tears of joy. At Berklee – compared to the UK – the cost of attendance is very high, at around $40.000 a year (approx. HUF 9 million). I couldn’t have paid that. I’ll still have expenses though, so I am deferring my entry by one year, to collect some money.

What do you expect to get from Berklee that you couldn’t get from a Hungarian university?

The way I see it, a certain style dominates Hungarian contemporary music, most people are brought up on this. However, I love everything multicultural. I’d like to listen to a Hindu singer and a Korean folk musician. I’d like to see diversity. Everybody at Berklee lives for their art and aims to be excellent in their field. This is why I want to live with other students on campus. If I have an idea for a song at 2 am I will go to one of the studios and record it. It’s not a coincidence that Berklee alumni earn 10-12 Grammy Awards every year. This is going to be the most vibrant three years for my music. And Berklee is an enormous ‘musical library’: if I study hard I can find my own path.

What do you mean? Isn’t it obvious that you’re a singer?

Right now this is my strong suit. But I love composing, and there are so many things I haven’t tried yet. I majored in Music business/Performance vocal and songwriting – this could lead anywhere.

You don’t hear it every day that Hungarian musicians study at world-renowned institutions.

There are plenty of talented musicians in Hungary. Some of them are happy with what they have here. If you get used to the Hungarian music industry, it becomes difficult to go back to school, to work with deadlines, to study on your own. Hungarian musicians are not so fond of leaving their comfort zone. The Hungarian music industry is a little bit stale. Many artists don’t have the ambition for renewal, and even if they had: the industry itself blocks their attempts. We fear the new, thus the audience doesn’t get to hear fresh impulses.

This is your goal? Renewal?

If I get a great opportunity or a project in the US, I will go for it. But my Hungarian audience remains my number one priority; I would like to show my gratitude to them. I want to share what I learned with the Hungarians.

Even if this is not good-bye, what message would you send to the students and mentors of Milestone?

I would like to say a huge thank you to the mentors for everything. I’m not sure I could have done it without Christoph. As for the students: they should not pay attention to what’s trending right now, but try to find something they are passionate about. It’s good to hang out in Milestone before the final exams, and it was easier to prepare together. All in all, I think it is very important to have the time of our lives while we are young. This is the time to study, to go to university. And if you made up your mind, you should aim for the best schools. This is what’s important, and not whether it’s a Hungarian or a foreign university.

Milestone News

18th June, 2021

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