CAMDEN – Ja’meir Thompson entered his first year music class at Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, a charter public school in Camden, not knowing how to play a single note of anything.
He didn’t even know the difference between a trombone and a tuba.
This fall – along with his best friend turned dorm mate Juhran Scott – he’s starting a whole new freshman year.
The trombone he once confused with a tuba is now his professional lifeline out of South Jersey and a training ground for more than 100 Grammy and Tony winners.
Thompson, 19, and Scott, 18, both trombonists, attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston with full scholarships funded by the institution’s City Music College Scholarship Fund.
âCulturally it’s a shock because it’s Boston. I come from an urban community,â Scott said.
Boston is an expensive city to live in, he’s already noticed.
The men’s scholarships cover tuition fees totaling $ 365,000 to attend the New England college that trained Alex Lacamoire, the music producer and conductor of “Hamilton”.
Thompson said there is a lot of pressure on the duo now.
Berklee has hosted several Camden musicians over the years, including Arnetta Johnson, a Camden trumpeter who supported Beyonce in the superstar’s Coachella 2018 performance which was released by Netflix in 2019.
It is the turn of Thompson and Scott to represent the city of the south of Jersey within the very famous school of music.
“There is pressure; every day I have to prove something,” said Thompson.
“Oh, I’m here at Berklee, but I need to learn more. I still need to train.”
As the paperclips slide
Thompson’s first day in the high school group may have been one of his biggest mistakes.
The major confusion arose when the principal of his high school orchestra told him to go to the concert hall and tell them that he would play the much bigger tuba. When he arrived in the music room, he forgot which instrument to take.
Tuba? Trombone? How different could they be?
Thompson quickly learned that he had been lucky with the tuba trombone. The trombone is much more mobile than a tuba. And as it happened, it attacked the bone almost immediately.
The day the trombone changed his life was also the day Thompson met Scott.
When they first met at Creative Arts, Scott had already been playing the trombone for three years. It is not just the product of musical education, he said. Under a microscope, you can see half notes in his blood.
âI have a strong musical lineage,â Scott said.
His grandfather gave him a guitar when he was 8 years old. He didn’t know what he was doing with it. But he liked to feel the creation of sound.
Scott is a chronic shower singer, and in college he tried his hand at drums.
In sixth grade, he auditioned on drums for the College of Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy. He was selected, but it is true that he did not sound good.
The director of his college group told him to reach out.
“He said, ‘man, you have long arms!'” Scott recalls.
“He gave me the paperclip, and oh my God, it looked like farts, but I felt like it suited me.”
Practicing their way to Boston
Scott and Thompson have come a long way since the fart sounds.
The only way to overcome the sound of pure gas is through pure practice.
âYou have to focus on what you want. You have to be disciplined on what you want. You have to train every day and learn every day,â Thompson said.
“Ask for help when you can’t be the musician you want to be on your own.”
The couple owe their diligence to three people: their mothers and Jamal Dickerson, group director at Creative Arts high school.
âHe’s an amazing person,â said Thompson.
âHe gives of his time; he sacrifices his own needs to help you. And he always makes you feel like you need to train. He always made us feel professional.
“I love this man.”
Dickerson is the guy who drugged them out of the band’s classroom and into the local theater.
They performed in the pit orchestra for a production of “The Princess and the Pea” at the Camden Repertory Theater.
Then Scott went from pit to stage last year in Camden Rep’s production of âSeven Spools of Threadâ.
âI learned that you don’t always have to make music. Music helps you do other things,â Scott said.
Both men performed with the Little Jazz Giants and the Town Jazz Giants.
âI would call it my practice time. This is when I had time to just play the horn and find out what works best for me by playing my instrument,â said Scott. .
By the time he got home in the evening after school and rehearsals, it was too late to practice in the house.
âI found a way to be comfortable with my mom, to be comfortable with me playing (at home),â Scott said with a laugh.
“I bought a plunger at the corner store, unscrewed the stick, and put it inside my (paperclip) bell.”
Motivated practices serve men well for their Berklee auditions. Dickerson helped them prepare. But, the performance was up to each of them individually.
âI was a little scared. I didn’t even know if I was going to be accepted at Berklee,â Scott recalls.
âMy mom, I remember one night we prayed. She said, ‘Don’t worry. You’ll come in.’ We just prayed over itâ¦ and I guess God just gave me the extra. â
Both men received their Berklee acceptances by email. Thompson discovered it first, hiding alone in his bathroom to open the email on his own. As he was celebrating before telling his family, his first thought was “I hope my boy came in.”
Scott did. He opened his email with his mother. Mum actually read it to him, then got into celebratory cries, then a series of phone calls to family and girlfriends, he recalls.
As the celebration of acceptance died down for the men and their families, awareness of Berklee’s spending set in.
Great opportunity, even higher bill
Camden’s men had to pay a big bill to attend Berklee. In 2020-2021, Boston College billed approximately $ 45,000 per year in tuition fees.
In comparison, Rutgers University costs about $ 15,000 per year in tuition for New Jersey residents.
âMy mom was worried about money like nothing else. When she saw the balance she was like, ‘Oh my God, how are we going to pay for this?’â Scott said, well let him admit he wasn’t worried. about the money.
âI have great faith in everything. I always think, ‘It’s going to happen. I’ll be good. I’m going to be fine, “” he said.
The two musicians grew up in Camden close to each other in Fairview.
“Everyone knew everyone. I had a lot of friends, I played football. I used to ride a bike,” Scott remembers being a little embarrassed in his part of town.
Before Fairview, he lived downtown on Gonzales Street.
Scott and Thompson spoke of their city with love. But, they know where they live, “there’s still a lot going on,” Scott recalled.
âEvery day it’s like we have to get out of the neighborhood,â said Thompson.
His mother still lives in Fairview, his home base when he is not at school.
Scott has applied for five scholarships. Thompson only applied to the City Music Scholarship at Berklee.
âI was so happy (to enter Berklee),â Thompson said. “But it was like I needed the money to get in because Berklee is so expensive.”
Months later, the couple unpack their things in their shared dormitory.
âThis is a roller coaster for real, for real,â laughed Thompson.
“I can’t train if he’s sleeping. I like it, though.”
They thrive on their newfound freedom to create their own schedules and control their future, he said.
Thompson has just been hired as an assistant for City Music to pay for living expenses not covered by the scholarship.
Neither man has yet declared a major. They learn about musical careers and use their early years to find the path that will lead them to their goals.
When they graduate in 2025, Scott hopes to transform his acorn with a brain full of musical business knowledge. He wants to “stimulate the spirits” by producing music and learning the trade to make the right moves of money.
Thompson wants to be an artist.
“I am coming, I am coming to change the world,” he said.
âHe needs love. He needs respect. He needs to be open-minded and know that not everyone will be the same. But you can still love.
“My music will make them feel that way. The music will make them listen.”
Carly Q. Romalino is originally from Gloucester County and has been covering southern Jersey since 2008. She is a Rowan University graduate and six-time New Jersey Press Association award winner.
Romalino is based at the Courier Post and covers South Jersey schools and education issues for the Courier Post, the Daily Journal and the Burlington County Times.
She hosts NJ Press Pass, a social media-based live interview show that delves into what matters to South Jersey residents.
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