New Brunswick

How a Rush tribute band inspired this Quispamsis teen to reach for Berklee

School's out for summer — unless you're Evan Shelton, who has been accepted to a summer program at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.

'It kind of put things into perspective. I might need to do this for a living'

Evan Shelton will be studying rock music at Berklee College of Music for five weeks this summer. (Elke Semerad/CBC)

School's out for summer — unless you're Evan Shelton.

The 16-year-old will be heading to a five-week summer music program at Berklee College of Music in Boston with a full scholarship. 

"I still don't get it, it's awesome," said Shelton, while fiddling with the strings of his blue 1991 Charvel 275 deluxe guitar.

"I'm so happy about it."

During the summer program, called Aspire: Five-Week Music Performance Intensive, the teen will take part in a rock workshop where he will play and study the theory of rock music.

Over the years, artists such as Meghan Trainor, Daniel Platzman from Imagine Dragons, and Jackie Foster from The Voice have taken the summer music program.

A bit of serendipity

Shelton, who just finished Grade 10 at Kennebecasis Valley High School, was at Classic Albums Live in Saint John two years ago, playing his guitar at a kitchen party, when a Rush tribute band came over to listen to him play. 

For some reason it just clicked in my head and I knew it was what I wanted to do.-Evan Shelton, musician

"They said if I wasn't underage, they would've hired me on the spot," he said. 

Then they told him he should apply to Berklee.

Shelton said he was shocked when he heard this because he never thought he was good enough for such a prestigious music school.

"It kind of put things into perspective like," he said. "I might need to do this for a living."

From paper boy to Berklee 

So he sent in his application in January — along with thousands of other people.

Shelton submitted three audition pieces, where he played songs from the 1980s by U.S. musician Jason Becker and rock bands White Lion and Harem Scarem.

The 16-year-old fell in love with playing the guitar at the age of seven, while watching his dad play Africa by Toto. (Facebook)

"I chose really challenging songs that not many people would do nowadays," he said in an interview with Information Morning Saint John.

He also wrote a 1,500-word essay explaining how music is his passion. He talked about being a paper boy for about six years and how he couldn't afford schooling as expensive as Berklee.

Tuition is just over $5,000 US.

In April, Shelton received a phone call during his lunch hour at school. His parents were calling to tell him he was one of about 900 people accepted into the college's summer music programs.

"I was really excited when I got accepted and in shock," he said.

Family road trips and Abba 

The teen has always considered himself a musician with an interest in different styles such as blues, hard rock, hair metal and jazz fusion. 

 "I love it," he said. "I wish I was in the '80s." 

Some of his favourite artists are Candian guitarists Ian Thornley and Nick Johnston.

Shelton attributed his diverse style of music to his parents. On family trips, Shelton said, they would listen to everything from Abba to Joe Satriani.  

How it all started

The teen knew he wanted to play guitar by the age of seven, when he heard his dad playing the song Africa by Toto on the guitar. 

"For some reason it just clicked in my head and I knew it was what I wanted to do," he said. "That song was really what started me playing." 

He got his first guitar that Christmas and started taking lessons the next fall. 

"I kept progressing with my playing and just trying to challenge myself a little more."

Evan Shelton is 15 years old. He's a paper boy and he is going to Berklee summer rock camp led by veteran rocker Marty Walsh. 7:56

And Shelton will continue to challenge himself this summer under the direction of Marty Walsh, an assistant professor at Berklee. Walsh recorded with famous artists such as Dolly Parton, Donna Summer and Neil Diamond.

"I'm really excited to see what I can get out of a five-week program from them."

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser


Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip?

With files from Information Morning Saint John


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.