I met Chloe Daniel Lewis in 2009 when I transferred to Andrews University. Although not a music major, Chloe shared her lovely soprano voice with the community through recitals every semester. Her programs were not the traditional classical variety but, in the words of a mutual friend, were ‘through composed’ with a clear vision and theme. I was amazed at their complexity and emotional significance to her and her type of programming has been an inspiration to me.
1. How old were you when you began singing?
Oh mercy… From what I’ve been told, before I started choir when I was 6 years old, my babysitter was crying when she picked me up from daycare because she’d had a bad day and I sang to her and patted her arm. I don’t remember it, but it sounds like me and I’ve been told that story several times. My mother – since I was homeschooled & free to come along – brought me with her to University Chorale on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30-1:45p when I was 6 years old and I just never left. It truly was a staple while I grew up.
2. You have been involved in choral singing for a long time. How do you think this has helped you develop as an artist?
Hmm… Stephen Zork was a huge part of my choral experience. If I had been in just any choir for a long time I don’t think I’d know how to answer this. Being in choir almost all my life under Stephen Zork influenced me as an artist in that I learned singing as a disciplined, exacting art. Many criticize vocal performance as being a lesser skill than expertise on a hands-on instrument, but I strongly dispute that. If anything, I think singing is more challenging, because emotions and immune system impact the ability to sing, making it require MORE finesse and MORE upkeep than a wind or stringed instrument. And because I have learned to get more acquainted with the parts of my body that help me sing, this special self-knowledge has helped me teach myself to sing genres besides classical. I can’t sing all the genres I want to, but I can sound like a more “approachable” singer and not just a serious classical soprano. Also, being in a choir taught me teamwork. I enjoy solo performing, but I greatly enjoy being part of a group, and I don’t need to be the center of attention or in the spotlight, even, to have a deeply satisfying musical experience.
3. When did you first begin programming?
When I was seventeen. I was finishing homeschooled high school, if I’d had a “graduation ceremony,” it would have been me walking down an aisle all by myself with a cap & gown, and that was a retarded mental image for me. I wanted to feel like I had something to show for graduating, so I made a playlist out of my diverse and beloved vocal & violin repertoire. It was right as I was winding down on violin/before I “lost my touch,” so I collage-programmed classical, jazz & fiddling music on violin with opera arias, pop, one African-American spiritual, once jazz song, and Broadway solos. I entitled it “The Sound of Sentiments,” since each song I had picked for a relevant, personal reason, which I enclosed in the modest, open-shut program we printed.
4. What inspires you to create a program?
It’s inescapably personal. From the beginning it’s been personal and since then it grew less and less about being a performer and more about being a communicator. The recitals became more spiritual (my interpretation was made clear by the personal commentary in my written programs, which accompanied the performances) and more about sharing my personal walk with God (even though most of my music was still secular & classical) in a way I hoped and still do believe encourages people to see a relationship with Jesus as something attractive, edifying and illuminating. I use my recitals to show how beautiful God’s heart is. Not enough people see God that way, as a Person unlike any other with an incredible & loving heart.
5. Singing is a very vulnerable thing and your added touches, especially your poetry readings, must make it even more so. Do you find that the vulnerability makes it more rewarding?
Absolutely yes. Like I said, I grew from being just a performer to a communicator. I crave that vulnerability. In every moment of life in every relationship that would be disastrous, but in a moment of art and heightened senses, it’s cathartic to give and helps convey truth with greater clarity and beauty. It feels amazing to me to be transparent in the brief hour of a vulnerable recital, and it touches hearts. Artists who don’t let themselves be vulnerable may entertain, they may shock & create awe, but they don’t foster connections and personal breakthroughs.
6. You showcase a lot of other talent in your programs in a very generous way. How important do you think it is for musicians to be supportive of each other?
Oh man. I think it’s wildly important, and not just important, but I think it’s incredibly beautiful. It’s important because we need to affirm each other and support each others’ creativity & unique talents. There’s a lot of criticism amongst artists and not enough affirmation. Artists and art should have more appreciation than analysis. Art feeds the soul – how can the soul be fed if analysis is never turned off, if you never just let yourself take it in? How can you
ever discover new things to enjoy or a new way to see an issue if you never turn off the criticism or tell your opinions to take an occasional back seat? How will you ever grow? I’m all about growth because I think it heightens artistic pleasure – growth isn’t all about growing pains. And while a particular artist can be appreciated in a certain way if you’re attending a solo recital where it is only them singing – so you can really get to know their voice & isms – you can get to know artists in different ways when you hear their talents compared & contrasted with a collage of other artists. A pearl ring is beautiful, but you appreciate its smoothness even more when there are diamonds set around it. And I could go on from there with all sorts of metaphors – every singer is a kind of jewel and a unique soul. They’re great alone and they’re equally beautiful mixed together; it depends on what sort of program you want to make, what kind of a message you want to send, how you want to set off a person’s talent – solo recital or sparkling collage where everyone has a moment to uniquely shine?
7. What is it like to have perfect pitch?
Hahaha. Good and bad. I’ve always had a good ear but I didn’t get perfect pitch till I transcribed a violin piece off a recording onto sheet music – listening to all the notes over and over, playing them on my violin to make sure I was right; that forever imprinted what an “A” sounds like; it’s the easiest note to produce when asked to give a note. But I can sing any note on the scale (in my range) because having taken violin and piano lessons, my brain feels kind of like a piano sometimes – I picture the keyboard and hear the individual keys’ tones, but it all takes much longer to write than it takes to happen in my head. So… I’d say having perfect pitch is like having a piano in my head that I can play for the note I’m asked for or need myself, but violin is what taught me perfect pitch, and haha it’s with my voice that I give that note or else I wouldn’t need perfect pitch; I could just play the note on an instrument. When something is out of tune, I can hear it for sure – it’s painful sometimes in a funny way, though sometimes it really does make me squirm. I’ve grown to be able to adjust more if I’m in a choir that’s going off-key without a piano; if I insisted on singing “on pitch” while the whole group is going off-pitch, they’d aurally have the discomfort of dissonance that I have mentally and of course the audience wouldn’t like the sound… Also, I can hear when recorded artists on iTunes weren’t tuned quite properly or if pressing with throat muscles not quite hard enough caused them to sing just under pitch; I’ve flinched a few times hearing a song on its first round when one of those flat notes is sung. I don’t often hear people sing sharp; if/when I do, it’s in a real life situation; not on iTunes. And all this being said, just because I have perfect pitch doesn’t mean I always sing in tune. I try, but if I’m having an emotional day and can’t get a handle on my feelings, if I’m getting over a truly bad cold (because I’ll sing until I’m forced to stop/sound like Yoda; I’m not one who rushes into “sick bay” because I get a cold), and if I’m simply out of
shape/rusty/haven’t had lessons in awhile, I’m not as “athletic” about good technique, like if you quit going to the gym & put on weight, you’re not as flexible & motivated as before. So…having perfect pitch doesn’t mean perfect singer. Definitely not. It just means my brain has extra training. I think any musician could learn perfect pitch if they wanted to. It just takes time & focus. I got mine by accident; I was just trying to transcribe a violin piece, and it happened because of what I was doing. So if someone picked a project like that or developed exercises that had them constantly listening & confirming different notes, I think they could learn it like I did. And then the musical world would be a better place! Haha
8. You have been trained classically but recently have done a lot of singing in more popular styles. Would
you consider yourself a classical crossover musician? And what do you think the crossover genre as a whole?
Hmm… Well, to me classical crossover musician implies (from what I’ve seen in the media) that the artist never returns to classical; that they were classical, crossover and “start a new colony” of musical style. I still love classical. I think I could perform others’ “classical crossover” songs quite well, but I’d rather be known – myself – as a creative artist. Not classical or crossover. That’s why I dropped my music major (apart from wanting to go into ministry) – I feel as though music is too often boxed in, and I don’t want to be boxed in. But I’m not normal, and some people really want a box that already exists, or they want to make their own “music box” and have it recognized & celebrated. I am ALL for supporting those artists; I just feel like my musical style & abilities and repertoire will be evolving and expanding till the day I die. I also know that there will be some kinds of things I will always love: staples. Creative individuals mix together the liberal and traditional into something new – they appreciate both what is radical and what is “old”. I think there’s an equal amount of transcendent beauty in the newest music these days as there is in classical music. And I think there’s just as much soul and honesty in classical music as there is in today’s musical world where there are pretty much no boundaries for stopping an artist from expressing his or herself in whatever way they want. I am not always and cannot always be creating new playlists and coming up with new ideas; most of the time, actually, I’m not dreaming up new stuff & making it happen (though I know that when I do it creates a mild ruckus, so people may think it’s what I’m always doing), I’m soaking up what other artists have done. I think that classical pop and classical crossover artists are misjudged and underappreciated because they’re not either-or. I think they’re creative, because they’ve mixed two into a new one, like a marriage. Musical purists might call it blasphemy but I think crossover music is beautiful and eloquent for the right audience. And just like anyone could learn perfect pitch, I’ve taught Myself to learn appreciation for new
genres – if I spend money on a song from iTunes, I make myself listen to it until I like it, until I see what IT has to offer ME, rather than expecting it to magically know what I think I want in that moment or else I’m going to hate it. Someone else in the world created that song and its style and they did it for a reason that was unique to them (or whoever was paying their bills) – either way, I think it’s a sign of respect to not demand music instantly please me or else I reject it. And honestly, I’ve never had to make myself like crossover music. I think it’s legitimate musical art. Only musical snobs seem to have trouble with it. And as a retired, older photographer friend once told me, “the worst thing art can do is not move you either to positive or negative.” So even though some snobs may never like crossover music, at least it moves them somehow, even if to dislike. Crossover music is legitimate art that moves people for better or for worse and, from what I’ve seen, mostly for the better.
9. Who are some of the artists that inspire you?
Kelly Clarkson, Claire Bowen (the whole show “Nashville” on ABC), Ingrid Michaelson, Hayley Westenra, Charlotte Church, Josh Groban, Dawn Upshaw, Joan Sutherland, Christina Aguilera, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, John Legend, Sean Kingston, The Rescues, Tegan & Sara, Phil Wickham, Melissa Otto, Colbie Caillat, Jason Mraz, Taylor Swift, Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks, Jennifer Hudson, Beyonce, Owl City, Mandisa, Kirk Franklin, Marvin Sapp, Jamie Cullum, Michael Buble, Andrew Petersen, Alison Brook, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Kiri Te Kanawa, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Kurt Elling, Diana Krall, Demi Lovato, All Sons & Daughters, Lisa Gungor, The Brilliance, Pink, Churchill, Megan Hilty, Robin McKelle, Indie.Arie, Lady Antebellum, The Welcome Wagon, Shane & Shane, Bryan & Katie Torwalt, Tiago Arrais, Relient K, Maroon 5, Chris Rice, Kate Havnevik, The Civil Wars, Adele, Bon Iver, Lindsay McCaul, Natalie Grant, Coldplay, Sleeping At Last, Sara Bareilles, Audra McDonald, Miranda Lambert, Bridgit Mendler, Snow Patrol, Missy Higgins, and more I’m sure I’m forgetting. I’ve picked up all kinds of new songs and artists thanks to Grey’s Anatomy, which is about to start its 10th season this fall; lots of new artists have – I think (unconfirmed) become famous because Grey’s Anatomy debuted their song(s), and the audience that loves Grey’s have enough emotional overlap with the soundtrack’s artists that their music becomes hot.
These ^ are all artists I respect and like fistfuls of songs by, but it’s more than just artists that inspire me. I find new music by listening to songs sung & created by artists I don’t know. So an important part of this answer, though you didn’t really ask for it, is that I’m inspired by whatever my intuition picks up on. If a song I’ve never heard before from a genre I’m not used to triggers an emotional response in me (and I have a very vivid inner life I know well enough to articulate pretty clearly and pretty easily, regardless of the situation), I
like it. Period. I’m constantly sound-tracking my life and storing memories in music. I literally – these past few years, since the fall of 2010 – have been making playlists by the month. Whatever new songs I came across (or old ones that came back to me), went into a playlist for that month, which makes the playlists more like folders full of memories than playlists full of songs. I love it. I also – random – love hearing an artist come out with a new album that sounds like he or she is exploring, creatively. Sara Bareilles’ newest album, “The Blessed Unrest” is a marvel when I compare it to her first album that had the hit, “Love Song.” All her songs sounded like her (I sense the same spirit in them, which I guess is Sara Bareilles’), but each new album she made sounded more mature and more expanded. The songs I bought from “The Blessed Unrest” I spent money on because – just from the sample – they sounded like she was setting herself free to be completely unique and it made her points and emotions come across in a more individual, enjoyable way that I could really revel in, aurally.
10. What would you like to accomplish musically in the future?
I would like to accomplish never ceasing to make and enjoy music, as well as continuing to discover new music. My tastes and the programs I keep putting together aren’t just indebted to the talents of people who sing with me and play for me, but they’re indebted to the creative individuals who make the songs I hear on TV shows, in movies & find randomly when I surf iTunes late at night. If I were no longer able to make music or hear music, it would kill my quality of life. Music is a window on heaven, it’s an exotic hobby (which you can only have if you’ve suffered music lessons – thank you Mom & Dad for paying & making me practice and not give up!), it’s therapy, catharsis, soul food and sanity. My father says I have music coming out of my pores; it’s more than a potential career; it’s a need. Even religious authors – not just artistic authorities and psychologists – recognize that music plays a special role in our personhood, development, quality of life and intimacy with God. The world needs music; music needs to never stop being explored. And since I’m a committed music lover, I will always have a love affair with music happening somehow in my life, and it will grow as I grow.
Chloe Lewis studies Religion at Andrews University