How’d you get your start as a musician, and what kind of education led to where you are today?
I was really young. As the story goes, I was three and a half, and my mom was trying to determine whether to enroll me in gymnastics classes or music classes.
There was a piano at our house that nobody really played. Well, my mom played a little bit, but none of my three older sisters were playing. So one day I climbed up onto the bench and started plunking out the notes to the theme from Sesame Street. My mom said, “oh my god, this kid has a really good ear,” so she put me in classical piano lessons, and I just fell in love with music.
I remember at a very young age listening to solo classical piano pieces while going to sleep at night and imagining myself performing these songs, and sharing this music with other people. There was so much joy and passion there, even from a young age.
What drew you to your instrument above all the rest?
It was practical. We had one in the house already, so it made sense. And that was the only instrument that any my family members — my family of six — at that time, at that age, had any connection with. So it was the most obvious place for me to begin.
How do you challenge yourself to keep learning and improving as a musician?
I think that this REQUESTOMATIC initiative stretches me. I’m being introduced to music I would never otherwise have heard, trying to rethink that music in a way that’s original. [It] definitely stretches me as an arranger and helps me constantly refine what it is that makes my voice unique, artistically speaking.
I also like to try picking up new instruments, even at my ripe age of 33. I still like to pick up [new things]. I want to learn the harp, for example. I want to learn guitar. My husband bought me this funny little portable harp called a Harpsicle a few Christmases ago. It’s unfortunately collecting dust in our studio at the moment, but I haven’t lost sight of that instrument and that goal. So learning new instruments is something I really want to continue with.
And actually creating more original music is something I’m really going to be focuses on in the coming years. This summer, as we continue with Requestomatic, of course there will be more covers and arrangements. But more and more, I want to be writing original songs and collaborating with other songwriters. I’m not a seasoned collaborator. I’m used to having one hundred per cent control of the artistic process, and I think it’s going to challenge me in a good way to work with other musicians.
Not limiting myself to a small circle of peers, but rather seizing every opportunity that I can to collaborate and play music with other musicians from other cultural backgrounds, or varying educational levels — I think that can only serve to grow and challenge and strengthen me as a musician.
Can you distill a single piece of advice for young musicians just starting out on their careers on how to be successful?
It’s two parts.
With all due respect to my team, you will always be your best advocate. You will always be your best manager. You will always be your best agent. You will always be your best liaison. Of course, some people with an artistic temperament may not enjoy the business aspect of things. But don’t lose sight of it. I think it’s important to keep your finger on that pulse.
And then musically speaking: be free. Don’t feel you have to pander to whatever judgemental voices you might hear along the way that tell you that in order to be a success, you need to be this, or you need to be that. It sounds a little bit cheesy, I realize, but find out what your authentic and unique voice is and go with it.
If you could jam with any musician, past or present, who would you choose? What tune would you call?
Bjork came to mind immediately. She’s just a monster musician and she seems to really enjoy jazz. She covered Like Someone In Love, she knows jazz.
But wait. Actually — Bobby McFerrin. And what would I want to do with Bobby McFerrin? Not necessarily a blues… I would it to just be something super wide open. Maybe something a little more modal. Oh, this is tough. I really can’t think of a song I would want to do with him. Maybe Someday My Prince Will Come.