Help Karen escape abusive home and finish Berklee

Hi there, my name is Karen. I am a pianist and composer from London, England. I specialise in jazz and black American music genres, and I have spent the last 3 years working towards my performance degree at Berklee College of Music. I have 2 semesters remaining, and upon graduating I plan on beginning my OPT and applying for an artist visa so that I can begin my music career in the US.

Ever since I fell in love with the Oscar Peterson trio at age 14, I have been hooked on the sound of jazz. I didn’t know much about the music at the time but I knew I had to have a piece of it, so I began my journey at World Heart Beat Music Academy and the Julian Joseph Jazz Academy in London. When Berklee offered me a scholarship in 2017, I was overjoyed – it was a dream come true for me to study this uniquely American art form in the US.

During my time at Berklee so far, I have gained so much knowledge and self-assurance. My playing and composition have improved significantly and I feel like I’m only getting started. I consider myself a very hard-working student, as reflected in my 3.7 GPA. In 2019, I am proud to have performed at Bern Jazz Festival in Switzerland as part of NEA Jazz Master Terri Lyne Carrington’s Jazz and Gender Justice Institute; DC Jazz Festival and Dizzy’s Jazz Club NY as part of Ralph Peterson’s GenNext Big Band; and Novosibirsk Jazz Festival in Russia with Dean Ron Savage. I’ve also lead many of my own recitals.

I’ve had the honour of having NEA Jazz Master JoAnne Brackeen as a private instructor, which has been a transformative experience for me. I’ve also attended workshops and clinics with greats such as Benny Golson, Ron Carter, Donald Brown, Christian McBride, Esperanza Spalding, Danilo Perez, Linda Oh, Melissa Aldana, and Aaron Parks, among many others. The opportunity to learn directly from these artists is not so easily accessible in the UK.

I returned home to London in September 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I decided to take some time off school, as online learning meant that I no longer had access to the facilities and face-to-face teaching which I was originally paying for.

Unfortunately, over the last month, I have run into extreme personal and financial difficulty. I am currently homeless in a pandemic, relying on the kindness of friends to support my living situation in the short term. I am looking for a more long-term housing solution until I return to Berklee, however after renting in London for the next 4 months I will no longer have the funds needed to pay for the remainder of my education.

Despite my efforts, covid and the 3rd full lockdown in London has made it extremely difficult for me to establish a more secure financial position. My piano students have become inconsistent (they've either caught covid or lost their jobs), my upcoming gigs have been cancelled, and I have also sent many job applications to no avail. There are no UK government loans available for studying overseas, and I have no generational wealth to fall back on.

I hope to return to Berklee in May 2021 to finish my degree, but until then I do find it critical that I find a long-term place to live. This is to safeguard my physical and mental health, and also to protect myself (and my friends) from the increasing risk of catching COVID-19.

I’ve submitted a scholarship appeal to Berklee, and they have informed me that they are unable to provide me with any additional financial assistance. I am now being forced between having a safe place to live and completing my education.

Any money raised will go towards renting an apartment and practise room in London, as well as living expenses (food and bills). I’m also hoping to put the funds towards medical expenses not covered under the NHS, including private counselling services – it will take many months before I am seen by anyone on the NHS due to the fact that they are very underfunded.

The last month has been emotionally exhausting and traumatising for me, and I just want my life to regain some normality so that I can get back to creating music.

The opportunity to study at Berklee has been a blessing for me. It has opened up so many doors, and has been a dream come true to study music at one of the most accomplished colleges in the world. To have to cut my education short right as I approach the finish line is devastating.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read about my situation, and thank you for any help you are able to offer me.


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Karen Shiraishi 
South Wimbledon, ENG
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