Tag Archives: art

i wanna be down

Imitation is the highest form of flattery … Really?

I’m inclined to believe that imitation is another name for laziness. There was this kid who copied something from me in third grade, some in-class thing, I don’t even remember the details. But I remember being angry about it, because I was very proud of my own creativity and my own ideas and how dare anyone else try to pass them off as theirs. As I got older, that and other experiences … like students trying to convince me to do their work for them, or asking me to cheat with/for them … led me to a conclusion which was pretty hard to shake: if you don’t have what it takes to do what I’m doing, you don’t deserve to get what I’m getting.

Yikes! Those are the kinds of words spoken by people who don’t have many friends, eh? I’ve already blogged on how I felt about collaborative work as a student, and when it comes right down to it, I still believe that everyone needs to pull their own weight.

So the years went on and I grew more entrenched in my do-it-yourself-like-I-did posture, and that (combined with my dad’s disappointment in any artist who performed a cover of someone else’s song and didn’t “do something different” with it) led me to three conclusions.

  1. Singing other people’s songs is the lazy way up for new performers.
  2. Singing songs you didn’t write yourself is subpar artistry.
  3. I, as a proud and determined singer/songwriter (emphasis on the SONGWRITER), was going to forge my way nobly up the steep hill of success by singing my own material, only occasionally throwing in a cover song to appease the masses who just didn’t know any better.

Well, if you can’t guess how that turned out, I’ve been pursuing my career for 17.5 years now and I still have a long, LONG way to go. And as I gear up to spend many, many nights singing songs that have been made famous by other people, I’ve come to a few new conclusions about cover songs and cover bands and cover singers.

  1. Singing other people’s songs is how every one of us started, unless someone can find me a singer who was creating original lyrics and melodies from the time he or she learned to sing.
  2. Singing songs you didn’t write yourself can help you become a better writer, much like reading books you didn’t write yourself can sharpen your skills as an author.
  3. I, with full firsthand knowledge of how difficult it can be to get a crowd to warm up to a person they don’t know singing songs they’ve never heard before, really enjoy singing lots of songs I didn’t write, whether I end up modifying them or singing them exactly the way they were first performed (not all songs; there are some “classics” which crowds love and which I despise thoroughly, but those are the exception and not the rule).
  4. Some songs I’ve always loved listening to are, lo and behold, covers! “Taking a Chance on Love” has been recorded by 70 different artists and bands according to Wikipedia; it’s one of my favourite old songs and I thought the version I heard first, from 1943, was the original but it turns out it’s from Cabin in the Sky which was released in 1940. The late great Luther Vandross was a genius at breathing new life into old songs (I didn’t find that out until recently that lost of the Luther tracks I grew up listening to, like “Since I Lost My Baby” and “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” were covers). And, it takes a special kind of insight and artistry to take a previously existing song and turn it into a message for a new generation, or a response to the original track, or a challenge or tribute to the earlier creator(s). Yes, this means I don’t have a problem with most remixes and most examples of sampling. Which is funny, because the nine-year-old me would be rolling her eyes right now at all these copycats out there …

    We miss you Luther!

    We miss you Luther!

  5. Performing is not always about what the performer wants to do. It’s usually more about what the audience wants to hear. And they tend to want something familiar more than something brand new. I’m glad bands like Boyce Avenue picked up on this, because I probably wouldn’t know who they were if they had considered themselves too good to do cover songs; and now I see them as a personal musical inspiration.
My biggest audience so far (Massey Hall) was all cover songs - here I am honouring The Ronettes

My biggest audience so far (Massey Hall) was for a show of all cover songs – here I am honouring The Ronettes

Don’t get me wrong — I still feel icky about the possibility of monetary gain at someone else’s expense because I relied on their pre-existing work instead of creating anything new, so I doubt I’ll be content to only sing covers for the duration of my career. But I promise I don’t hate them any more. And yes, you’re welcome to cover one of my songs — just make sure you do a better job of it than I did. ;-)

brick wall

False start? Not even!

On October 17, I posted the following on my Facebook fan page:

Wow. Wrote a screenplay last month and suddenly I find myself (with amazing teammates, thank goodness) producing and starring in a short film from it! We’re shooting next month. 

Lesson: incredible things happen when you learn what to say “yes” and “no” to ;)

Background info: with the support of my good friends Kerron Schullere, Sagine Semajuste, Jazz Testolini, and others, I wrote a screenplay in September and cast a bunch of my homies in it (including those three), with the intention of shooting the project next year when I come back from Dubai. Then some awesome things happened and even more amazing people appeared and a whole huge shower of encouragement and motivation and optimism fell out of the sky, and before I knew it we were on track to submit for a first-time filmmakers’ mentorship program this week, receive our yea/nay verdict next week, finish shooting by November 21st, and possibly/probably have our premiere in April 2014 at the ReelWorld Film Festival.

Awesome, right?!

Answers to tough questions were found, pathways were dug around and under and through obstacles, and this film was so close to becoming a reality that I was astonished. My reason for that Facebook post was the realization that saying “yes” to one possibility had bred even more possibilities, and aside from saying “no” to fear and doubt I was also saying “no” to other good things that I could be doing with the time and energy and resources already being invested into the film. After all, if I spend an hour itemizing the props needed for the shoot, that’s an hour that was not spent doing some other activity. That isn’t a noble sacrifice or a painful tradeoff; it’s the logical result of there only being 24 hours in a day.

Well, it’s a good thing I got used to this aspect of saying “no,” because just yesterday my main partner in crime Kerron and I decided to postpone the project. It isn’t dead, and really it isn’t even taking a nap — trust me, there’s still a whoooole lot of prep work to do! We decided, however, to say “no” to the upcoming deadline and how cool it would feel to say that it took only ten weeks to write, cast, rehearse, prep and shoot the whole thing. And in so doing, we’re saying “yes” to an even awesomer final product. (Yes, “awesomer” is a thing now. Trust me. You can start saying it too.)

It felt a little weird to realize that while I thought I had been posting this for other people to learn from, it ended up being advice from myself to myself. Thanks for the insight, Chattrisse-of-last-week =)

So stay tuned! And feel free to share your own stories of saying no to something you wanted, and whether or not you ended up with something even better!!

On set for a Divine Brown video shoot ... the first time I was ever paid to dance ;-)

Singer who Moves Well

Those of you in the world of musical theatre, or anywhere else where triple threats can be found, can probably guess what this post is about.

I love to dance; I have as long as I can remember; I’ve spent lots of money and lots of time taking dance classes and workshops, I’ve choreographed and taught others, and I even convinced my father that one night a week we should watch So You Think You Can Dance Canada instead of whatever sports channel he normally lives on.  (In fact, as I post this, I’m packing up my heels for a dance class later tonight – if the video footage I get is any good, I’ll share it later!)

But when people ask me what I do, I usually say “I’m a performer” or “I write and sing” or “I’m a singer and actor” … or, if I’m in a chatty mood, “I write and sing and act and dance.” I never just say “I’m a dancer.” I would kind of feel like a fraud if I did.

For one thing, Dancer Chattrisse is a baby compared to Singer Chattrisse (started singing in public around age 6) and Actor Chattrisse (first took classes at age 8) and Writer Chattrisse (who was born at age 10, an outgrowth of Poet Chattrisse who came on the scene around the same time as Actor Chattrisse but faded into obscurity much sooner). I never took a dance class in my life until I was the ripe old age of 12, and I doubt I will ever be able to do the splits; kicks and pretty turns are still challenges for me, and it was an absolute shock to discover in 2009 that my male dance partners could lift me into the air. So dance is still the area on my resume in which I have the least experience, and therefore the least confidence.

Besides that, many of my dancer friends have been dancing since they were toddlers. Baby ballerinas are not only adorable; by the time they’re in their teens and twenties, people who have been dancing for that long (with adequate passion and proper instruction) are not to be messed with! So I have this tendency to shrink away from calling myself a dancer because to me, they are dancers.

The labels “singer who moves well” and “ strong mover” are more appropriate, as dorky as they look and sound. And I’m not saying I’ll never consider myself to be a dancer dancer, because since 2010 dance has been creeping back up my list of priorities and presenting itself as an activity that really does keep me sane. It also makes me feel liberated and sexy in a way that singing and acting don’t always do … though that may be because the styles I’ve been learning and teaching lately are almost exclusively burlesque-tinged or Caribbean. Many of my professional friends and acquaintances have been nice enough to show that they really appreciate my talent as a dancer, and if the dancer dancers are calling me a dancer, hey, I must be getting closer to the point where I am one.

For now, though, let’s not ask me to do any triple pirouettes; let’s hold off on even the double turns. Isn’t that what body doubles are for??