Oakland's Finest, Vol. II: An Interview With Sasha Berliner

Oakland's Finest, Vol. II: An Interview With Sasha Berliner

What Oakland does for the mind, body, and soul of our youth

Oakland molds a very strategic perspective and ambition. One that wakes people up. One that makes you want to share that with the world. One that makes you want to strive for your passions, whatever they may be.

This is the point my next feature Oakland native Miss Sasha Berliner drove home.

She is a recent graduate of the Oakland School for the Arts with a concentration in Instrumental Studies. She will be attending The New School on a 70 percent merit-based scholarship for Jazz Studies. She hopes to also integrate composition, business and teaching into her college experience.

She has accomplished a plethora of pre-professional goals - as a musician - that many young individuals never even get the chance to know about. She is an extremely blessed and talented young woman.

In her interview, she was quite honest and blunt about her own experiences and perspective in Oakland.


How have your hardships guided you toward success?

I cannot speak that much about race or class personally because I grew up middle class and obviously I have racial privilege. But I will say that having gone to school and spent the majority of my time in Oakland has woken me up to the kind of injustices, implicit or explicit, intersectional or not, that other people face and I don't. Oakland is a mixed city in terms of demographics and varying artistic abilities, and it's a very inspiring and awareness-provoking area to be. It has helped me realize what I can do in my position of privilege to help bring more awareness to the kind of awful things I see my friends experience every day, be it racial slurs, racial profiling, the resurgence of white supremacy by master rhetoricians, police brutality, struggling to pay rent, any number of things. While I may be the most privileged kind of woman, I am still a woman, and there are many difficulties that come with that. Trying to pursue music as a woman has definitely tested my resilience and confidence, and in the end, it's definitely made me a stronger person. Everyone's always tried to control my future, try and tell me what I need to do with my life. It's very important to learn from others' experiences and take them into consideration when I go off to create my own path of success. But men in particular have always told me from a young age I'm going to be successful because I play well and I'm cute and pretty and I would sell great as an image. Few have recognized my talents independently of my looks and that caused me for a long time to put more focus on my appearance than mastering my instrument or creating beautiful music. No woman should need looks to get by in the music industry. When I started focusing more on just my music, artistic expression, building a mastery in my instrument, people stopped factoring my appearance into my talents. Even then, the sexualization still exists. I think what I've overcome so far has furthered my success, and I hope that the fighting I'll have to do in the future will do so too.

How did you find your passion?

I found my passion for music initially just from growing up on it. It was an inseparable part of my childhood. I was listening to music of all different genres and styles all the time. My dad was also a bass player so he inspired my brother and I to pick up instruments. I joined a rock music performance program when I was about 8 years old playing drums, and it sort of took off from there. I knew I always wanted to perform. Picking up the vibraphone in the eighth grade when I first started studying jazz and other closely related genres like latin-jazz or Brazilian music, R&B, funk, and fusion definitely furthered that. While I wrote songs before the eighth grade, vibraphone triggered my passion for composing because it forced me to explore music theory and the infinite amount of melodic and harmonic possibilities I could put into my own music. I also have dealt with mental illness, something that makes the process of mastering an instrument actually made more severe, but it helped me turn my personal issues and constant self-deprecation into beautiful music, even if I always thought I could do better, perform better, play better and compose better. It became a form of therapy I couldn't give up, especially as I realized the rewards of being a musician to be so much greater than the consequences, no matter how severe they got.

Tell me more about your experiences at Oakland School For the Arts and maybe some future plans.

I go to an arts high school in Oakland, so of course I am involved in making art in high school. My emphasis is in the jazz portion of the instrumental music department at my school. I am and have been involved in numerous extracurricular music programs like San Francisco Rock Project earlier in high school, Oakland Public Conservatory, SF Jazz High School All Stars, and Oakland Youth Orchestra, and got involved in local radio stations like 94.1 KPFA. I do spend a lot of time composing music and developing my skill sets on my own, and I frequently play gigs with other musicians around the area. I also love writing poems, spoken word, and short stories on the side, potentially part of a dream to make a book on my personal experiences in the music world in the future. I am highly interested in fashion and beauty as well, politics, economics, psychology, all of which I research and engage in in my free time. Fashion and beauty is more just for fun, but the last three are all things I believe will make me a better, more informed citizen the more I study them. They are fascinating subjects as well.

What do you plan to do with your major?

For my major I plan to do some sort of music performance or education. I know the education degree is more applicable to getting a job, but I like the amount of intensive studying, learning, and networking that occurs in the performance degrees. I'm still contemplating which one I want to go for, so I don't know what I'll do with it yet. Ultimately, I would just love to perform and compose, bring something new to the music world in terms of sound and message, and help others do the same in the future (the teaching aspect). What is your music if you can only use it to gain validation for yourself?

How is your career path looking at the moment?

I honestly don't have much of a clue. Music is unpredictable and opportunities often come completely out of the blue. It is looking like I'll keep performing and studying my instrument to the point of mastery (which may take a lifetime), I'll find out ways to not only keep composing music, but compose music with or without others that serves a greater good like delivering a political message. I'll get involved with other musicians and work together with them to create something beautiful, something I'm hoping a new location or networking will help me achieve further than I already have with the people here in the Bay, and I'll find a way to give back to the community that has helped me get this far in the first place. All I know is that I definitely want to do music, and I'll do anything to make that happen. It's already starting to happen that way, and I hope it can only progress further down that path from here on out.

You can listen to her new album “Gold” here: https://soundcloud.com/sashaberlinermusic/sets/gol... (My EP link, also can listen on spotify, buy forever from iTunes, CD Baby)

A short film biography of Sasha, created and filmed by Tiger Leet:

My message for Oakland at this day and age is that we are still a beautiful light with a deeper issue at hand. We need to recognize our talents and our beauty and not simply give it up with violence and mediocrity. Sasha is one of the countless examples of what Oakland has the potential to do to the mind, body and soul. Oakland has so much to offer, but there's no one really showcasing this place that hosts the next greats. The next great artists, great politicians, and musicians and teachers. As a place of rich potency, I hope we continue the trend of greatness.

#prayforoakland #oaklandsfinest

Cover Image Credit: Mazzarella Arts

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I'm The Girl Without A 'Friend Group'

And here's why I'm OK with it


Little things remind me all the time.

For example, I'll be sitting in the lounge with the people on my floor, just talking about how everyone's days went. Someone will turn to someone else and ask something along the lines of, "When are we going to so-and-so's place tonight?" Sometimes it'll even be, "Are you ready to go to so-and-so's place now? Okay, we'll see you later, Taylor!"

It's little things like that, little things that remind me I don't have a "friend group." And it's been like that forever. I don't have the same people to keep me company 24 hours of the day, the same people to do absolutely everything with, and the same people to cling to like glue. I don't have a whole cast of characters to entertain me and care for me and support me. Sometimes, especially when it feels obvious to me, not having a "friend group" makes me feel like a waste of space. If I don't have more friends than I can count, what's the point in trying to make friends at all?

I can tell you that there is a point. As a matter of fact, just because I don't have a close-knit clique doesn't mean I don't have any friends. The friends I have come from all different walks of life, some are from my town back home and some are from across the country. I've known some of my friends for years, and others I've only known for a few months. It doesn't really matter where they come from, though. What matters is that the friends I have all entertain me, care for me, and support me. Just because I'm not in that "friend group" with all of them together doesn't mean that we can't be friends to each other.

Still, I hate avoiding sticking myself in a box, and I'm not afraid to seek out friendships. I've noticed that a lot of the people I see who consider themselves to be in a "friend group" don't really venture outside the pack very often. I've never had a pack to venture outside of, so I don't mind reaching out to new people whenever.

I'm not going to lie, when I hear people talking about all the fun they're going to have with their "friend group" over the weekend, part of me wishes I could be included in something like that. I do sometimes want to have the personality type that allows me to mesh perfectly into a clique. I couldn't tell you what it is about me, but there is some part of me that just happens to function better one-on-one with people.

I hated it all my life up until very recently, and that's because I've finally learned that not having a "friend group" is never going to be the same as not having friends.

SEE ALSO: To The Girls Who Float Between Friend Groups

Cover Image Credit: wordpress.com

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It's Time For You High Schoolers To Invest Your Time Into Your Careers

It may seem too early to specialize, but there will be a point where it's too late.


If you're in high school, odds are you're approached by friends, family and more family about your plans after. For many of us, this can mean college. From convincing a college to admit you to convincing them to foot your entire tuition bill, you need to be marketable.

You should start with writing out your resume. Write it specifically oriented towards your career path. My resume, for example, is music themed. If you are anything like younger me, you might have a couple things that fit. I had marching band, concert band, honor band. But the majority might be things you signed up for to round yourself out.

A candidate too well rounded is directionless.

My participation in science club was fun, I will admit. But it didn't do much for me. It didn't teach me leadership, nor cooperation nor did it help with my career path.

High school is a lot more limited a time to both express and market yourself than you might think. Before I knew it, I was sitting in my junior year without much to my musical name.

If you have an extra curricular that you participate in because you enjoy it, you don't have to drop it. If you have developed as a person or as a leader, then it might even be something you can include in your list.

I just want to caution people from getting into the same situation I was in. I spent the first three years essentially of high school to feel out different areas, and this was too much time.

Productive uses of your after school time should be things you talk about when you say what sets you apart from other students in your field. And yes, this means you have to utilize tools outside of your school offerings most of the time.

When I go to apply for college and for musical internships, I plan on listing my participation in Atlanta CV (professional drum corps in DCA), high school marching band and marching band leadership, MAYWE (Metropolitan Atlanta Youth Wind Ensemble, an auditioned honor band), GYSO (Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra), AYWS (Atlanta Youth Wind Symphony), Youth Bands of Atlanta, county honor band, jazz band, twice state applicant for Governor's Honors Program Music, JanFest music at UGA, the Academy of Science, Research and Medicine (Biotechnology certification and science fair), math bowl and HOSA - Future Health Professionals.

When I go to apply for college and for musical internships, I plan on listing the most relevant activities as well as the ones I've chosen to regardless stick with. Relevant activities in regard to my music major include honor ensembles and marching activities.

My most applicable activities for music include marching bands. I am a contracted baritone marcher of Atlanta CV Drum and Bugle Corps as well as trombone marcher and two year Trombone/Baritone Section Leader for the Pride of Paulding marching band. These show relevancy because these organizations provide rapport as well as the marching activity in itself shows another level of musical capability.

My honor ensembles are relevant likewise because they show higher musical skill and provide some legitimacy to your path. I have been involved in Metropolitan Atlanta Youth Wind Ensemble, county honor band, jazz band and I was also a Two-Time State Applicant to the Governor's Honors Program.

I plan to also be with the Symphony of the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Youth Wind Ensemble, Youth Bands of Atlanta and JanFest at UGA. Auditions are coming up for each of these and I hope to be considered for membership. These would round out my music application by showing versatility (via orchestra along with wind ensembles) and more time dedication. Both universities and employers value this level of hard work.

Of course, even I on my soapbox have some activities I've stuck with despite it not being directly related to music. Despite this, you can make them relevant by touting your experience with it. I've been an officer and competitor for our chapter of HOSA - Future Health Professionals despite not going into healthcare and I've been certified in Biotechnology through my school The Academy of Science, Research and Medicine despite not going into STEM.

My experiences in biotechnology and healthcare have provided me a round academic experience, more high rigor classes and leadership opportunities. I was co-treasurer of our HOSA chapter and my Magnet school gave me access to more AP classes and the biotechnology classes. Anything can be useful, but the extent is determined by its relevancy.

The vast majority of my activities are both outside of the school and directly related to my career path. Activities such as these can make any student automatically more competitive than an equally academically-standing student.

Finding these activities involve a combination of involving teachers and mentors in your career field as well as self research. Luckily for me, I was able to fairly quickly compile a list of Honor Bands to audition for due to the abundance in the area. My directors also named a few. Most areas should have something at least tangentially-related to your specialization.

Some opportunities require knowing the right people and being in the right place at the right time. For example, my involvement in one of my most valuable activity assets, Atlanta CV, was a result of knowing a guy that knew a guy that knew about an opening for the right instrument halfway through spring training.

What I hope readers gain from my story is to start early. I've found myself struggling to meet the market's standards in the last year of high school immediately before applying for college. Specializing would have been more effective a tad bit longer term and I hope others take my heed.

Moving on from high school can be an intimidating process. It's hard to find the right college, and even harder to convince them they want you. Harder still is convincing them to pay for your education. But all this can be made easier by specializing and becoming marketable.

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