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Berklee musicians are basking in the 'CODA' Oscar glow

In <em>CODA</em>, Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) auditions for Berklee College of Music. Real Berklee-trained musicians contributed to the Oscar winning film.
In CODA, Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) auditions for Berklee College of Music. Real Berklee-trained musicians contributed to the Oscar winning film.

Updated March 29, 2022 at 5:39 PM ET

Boston's Berklee College of Music is reeling from CODA's win for best picture at the Academy Awards. Contributions from the school's students and alumni run throughout the movie, both on and off-screen.

Nicholai Baxter, who graduated from Berklee in 2007, served as the film's co-music producer. He also co-wrote the original song "Beyond The Shore" with fellow Berklee alum Matt Dahan.

Singers in the film's fictional, high school a cappella group come from Berklee's Pitch Slapped. Coincidental nod to that other episode from Sunday night's Oscars.

"We were screaming all over the place," beams 2021 Berklee grad and Pitch Slapped singer Kyana Fanene in an interview with NPR about the experience of watching CODA win multiple Oscars.

Since the Berklee alumni who worked on the film are now spread out across the country, Fanene says they kept a busy group chat going during the awards show. After Troy Kotsur won for best supporting actor and then writer and director Siân Heder won for best adapted screenplay, "We were like, 'Wait, what?' And then when best picture was announced, that's when all the tears came," she says, "We were just blowing up and posting about it ... screaming with exclamations."

Members of Berklee College of Music's <em>Pitch Slapped</em> appear in the Oscar winning movie CODA.
/ Courtesy of Pitch Slapped
Courtesy of Pitch Slapped
Members of Berklee College of Music's Pitch Slapped appear in the Oscar winning movie CODA.

CODA is a coming of age story about Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), a musically gifted teenager whose responsibilities in her family's fishing business don't leave her much time – or resources — to develop her talent. As the only hearing member in the family, Ruby is also a Child of Deaf Adults or CODA. When Ruby's high school choir director sees that she's a singer with promise, he encourages her to apply to Berklee College of Music.

Cambridge-born Siân Heder told Filmmaker Magazine the Berklee singers "were almost too good for the roles." She even had to direct them to "not sing at their full potential, as they were just too talented."

Fanene confirms this. In one scene the high school choir director instructs each student to sing "Happy Birthday." Fanene says she was told to sing it like "a very bad version of Christina Aguilera." She apparently succeeded. "The camera crew and everything would just burst out laughing, whether it was my turn or someone else's turn," she remembers.

CODA was just one of the filmswith Berklee-trained talent to be recognized at the Academy Awards. Graduates Alvin Wee worked as the score mixer on Disney's Encanto; Lena Glikson was a music editor on King Richard; Sean Jones starred as the character Action in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.