From Boston to Panama: NEC Students and Faculty Teach and Perform at the 2023 Panama Jazz Festival

January in Boston was icy, but in Panama City, it was warm and sunny, and 40,000 musicians and audience members were about to gather for the 20th annual Panama Jazz Festival.

Hear from the eight NEC students who spent the week performing and practicing their teaching artistry, reaching hundreds of students and tens of thousands of audience members.

Delfina Cheb holds a microphone and smiles from the outdoor stage during the Panama Jazz Festival.
Contemporary Musical Arts student Delfina Cheb smiles from the stage at the 20th annual Panama Jazz Festival. Photo: Panama Jazz Festival / Ana Patricia Villareal

For the past decade, NEC's Jazz Studies department and Community Performances & Partnerships (CPP) program have partnered with the Panama Jazz Festival (PJF) to create an exciting experience for NEC jazz and chamber artists: for NEC students, the festival is a chance to receive the kind of mentorship and training that will support their growth as global music citizens.

During the six-day festival, students from both jazz and chamber ensembles participated in workshops, attended performances, and took the stage themselves.


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This year, a hand-picked ensemble of Jazz and Contemporary Musical Arts students and Trio Gaia, our current graduate piano trio-in-residence, were selected for the program.

“Part of our graduate program at NEC means learning how to teach music as much as we perform it,”

said Yi-Mei Templeman ‘22 BM, ’23 GD, Trio Gaia's cellist.

“I personally loved being able to connect with such an enthusiastic group of young musicians at all skill levels. It gave me so much hope for the international future of music.”

Reaching hundreds of students in one short week

Trio Gaia takes a moment to enjoy the beauty of the Panama City skyline, despite their busy teaching and performance schedule.
Trio Gaia takes a moment to enjoy the beauty of the Panama City skyline, despite their busy teaching and performance schedule.

Prior to the festival, selected students develop curriculum for the clinics and workshops they will lead at the festival, receiving coaching in teaching artistry from NEC faculty mentor Tanya Maggi, Dean of Community Engagement and Professional Studies at NEC.

“This was such a beautiful, enriching experience for us all, and witnessing the students’ passion and love of their craft was wonderful,”

said Maggi.

“We always try to create a collaborative learning environment where everyone can be both teacher and student, learning together, and I think we more than succeeded this year.”

A jazz player holds his saxophone up in front of a large outdoor crowd at Panama Jazz Fest, with the blue sky in the background.
Jazz saxophonist Hunter McKay takes an “instrument selfie” in front of the closing concert crowd at the 2023 Panama Jazz Festival.
Ken Schaphorst, Danilo Perez, and NEC jazz students smile together at the U.S. Embassy in Panama City
Ken Schaphorst, Danilo Perez, Nadav Friedman, Delfina Cheb, Santiago Galeano, Kris Monson, and Hunter McKay at the U.S. Embassy in Panama City, Panama.

This year's jazz ensemble was comprised of Contemporary Musical Arts (CMA) student Delfina Cheb ’21 MM, ’24 DMA and Jazz Studies students Hunter McKay ’23 DMA, Kris Monson ’25 DMA, Santiago Galeano ’22 MM, and Nadav Friedman ’22 MM.

Along with NEC jazz chair Ken Schaphorst, the jazz ensemble taught and performed, leading clinics in saxophone, drums, flugelhorn, bass, piano, voice, and composition, attended by high school and college-aged students from Panama, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and the U.S, reaching hundreds of students over the course of the week.

Classical Connections at a Jazz Festival

Trio Gaia, comprised of Yi-Mei Templeman ’22 BM, ’23 GD, Andrew Barnwell ’20 BM, ’23 MM, and Grant Houston ‘20 BM, ’22 MM, ’23 MM performed and led workshops as part of the Intercambio de Música Clásica.

The Intercambio de Música Clásica was founded as a partnership between NEC’s CPP program and the Panama Jazz Festival to celebrate classical music in conjunction with jazz, and features NEC students leading private teachings, chamber music coaching, technique classes, and daily workshops, all culminating in the final student showcase.

30,000 audience members: "The Biggest Show of my Life to Date"

Finally, the week culminated with a bang:

“We ended the week with an overflowing concert at Cuádrangulo Central with more than thirty thousand people, probably the biggest show of my life to date,”

said Santiago Galeano ’22 MM.

This final PJF performance featuring students from New England Conservatory, Berklee College of Music, and New York Jazz Academy, was held in the Quadrangle of the City of Knowledge, open to the public at no cost.

Global Music Citizens

Although the festival has concluded, the impact it had on NEC students will last long past the final bow.

“I feel extremely honored and humbled to have been a part of the Panama Jazz Festival and to have represented NEC,”

said Delfina Cheb ’21 MM, ’24 DMA.

“I am grateful for the opportunity of learning from my bandmates, our director Ken Schaphorst, and from the amazing artists that participated in the festival.

“It has inspired me to create music sharing, learning and performance opportunities in my hometown of Buenos Aires and to keep building community with artists from all over the world.”

Hunter McKay ’23 DMA echoed Cheb's gratitude and inspiration, saying:

“I am so grateful to have had this experience and to have met so many wonderful people. The enthusiasm of all the festival attendees left me feeling inspired after every masterclass and performance; and the amazing musicians I met at the festival were equally inspiring,”


Get Involved:

NEC's Panama Jazz Festival representatives are selected annually, and supported by the Jazz Studies and Community Performances & Partnerships departments. To learn more, contact: 


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