Columbus musician receives Berklee College of Music scholarship

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Relakela Cole sits in the nearly empty living room of her Middle Eastern home one afternoon in late September.

The 41-year-old is undergoing renovations, so the room contained only a few items – a kitchen chair, a painting of a violin and sheet music and an electric violin and cello.

Both instruments belong to Cole’s 18-year-old son, Asa Simpson-Cole, who recently left for college.

She said her living room was the perfect practice space for Simpson-Cole and her friends in high school, where they played their instruments for hours on end.

“When a kid sits there and practices two or three hours a day and you don’t have to force him…that’s how I knew he really wanted to do it,” said said Cole.

These hours of practice pay off for Simpson-Cole, who received a full four-year scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He was one of eight musicians to receive a scholarship and the only one outside of Massachusetts, according to a press release.

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All scholarship recipients participated in Berklee City Band, a non-profit program that provides contemporary music education to young people in underserved communities at little or no cost. A ceremony was held for the musicians at the Berklee Performing Center last month.

Simpson-Cole said he was in disbelief when he heard the news.

“I remained nonchalant, but I was excited to go somewhere where I can meet many artists like me and where I can have cultural and social influence,” he said.

Simpson-Cole’s stepfather, Michael Lynch, said he was amazed when he heard about his son’s acceptance to Berklee.

“Just seeing them (the scholars) being so young…getting full scholarships for this was awesome,” said the 34-year-old East Side resident. “It just shows that when kids put their minds to it, they can do something.”

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A diamond in the rough

September 19, 2022;  Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Columbus cellist and violinist Asa Simpson-Cole recently began his studies at Berklee College of Music, where he received a full scholarship.  Asa's first cello in his Columbus home.

Simpson-Cole’s love of music began when he started playing the violin in fifth grade at Afrocentric Early College. He soon transferred to Ohio Avenue Elementary in Olde Towne East and began attending an after-school music program run by Columbus urban ropes, a classical music program for string musicians aged 11-17 from underrepresented communities.

Founder Catherine Willis remembers Simpson-Cole as being “very quiet” in his early days, but serious about the music.

Catherine Willis, founder of Urban Strings Columbus

“He was always in rehearsals, he was always performing, and he was always up for a challenge,” she said. “If you presented him with new music, he was always on it. So as he grew and developed, we realize that what had happened was that he was a diamond there in his school and just waiting to be polite.”

Learn to play multiple instruments

Asa Simpson-Cole, 18, a cellist and violinist from Columbus, recently began his studies at Berklee College of Music, where he received a full scholarship.

Simpson-Cole said learning the violin was a struggle at first, but he eventually got better at his craft. In sixth grade, he began to learn his second string instrument, the cello. The cello has since become Simpson-Cole’s main instrument, but he has continued to play multiple instruments through Urban Strings and private lessons – viola, double bass, electric bass, harp, piano, the guitar and the saxophone.

However, the musician’s favorite instrument is the harp.

“When you play the harp, it’s a huge technical difference, but it’s also the most beautiful instrument and the sound quality can vary,” Simpson-Cole said.

While at Centennial High School and Fort Hayes Career Center, the musician began composing his own music and covering songs by contemporary artists such as Billie Eilish, Lindsey Stirling and Ed Sheeran.

Regarding his mentors and biggest influences over the past eight years, Simpson-Cole noted Willis, Urban Strings assistant leader Mitchell Franklin and Fort Hayes music teacher Jeff McCargish, who helped him. to join the Berklee City Music summer program last year.

Franklin said Simpson-Cole helped motivate him as a bandleader and served as a role model for other kids in the orchestra.

“It makes me happy to see he’s blossoming and as they like to say, I can’t wait to see what the future holds,” he said.

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Adapting to university life

Since moving to Boston last month, Simpson-Cole said college has been an adjustment. Some of his lessons are stressful and he found he needed a new cello after a teacher told him his old one was in bad shape. The price of a new cello costing at least $4,000, Simpson-Cole has created a GoFundMe page to help with his fundraising efforts. In addition, her mother works overtime at her workplace to help her.

The musician plans to double major in music education and film music, and a minor in performance. After college, Simpson-Cole wants to return to her hometown and become a music teacher for Columbus City schools.

“We need more ethnic teachers,” he said.

His mother, who also played the violin growing up, said it feels good to see her son travel further in his musical journey than she has.

“I may not have been able to do it, but seeing your kids go far is…I’m just happy,” she said. “It’s very satisfying, it’s a blessing.”

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